Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
DOB: October 27, 1994 (age, 21)
Draft: 2013, 8th overall
How acquired: Drafted by Buffalo
Last contract signed: 2013 ELC; $950k/yr. + $850k yearly performance bonus
Final year of contract: 2015-16, RFA
2015-16 Stats: 82 games, 9 goals, 32 assists, 41 points, -212
What we wrote preseason: Ristolainen was the player the Sabres keyed on at the 2013 NHL Draft and they got him. Despite being NHL ready, after the management team was blown up that season, Risto was sent to the AHL. After the season was over, he went back to Finland to work out and came to development camp chiseled as if to say he never wanted to go back to the AHL.
"Ristolainen ended up making the Sabres roster and averaging 20:36 of ice-time for the 2014-15 season," and after Tyler Myers was traded, "[his] ice-time would increase substantially. In the final 20 games of the season, he would not see less than 20:58 minutes of while hitting 28:00 minutes or more three consecutive games.
"He has physical attributes as well as the drive to excel. He has tremendous hockey sense, is a strong skater, he positions himself well and has a strong physical presence to his game as well as some offensive acumen. The only thing missing from his resume' is full-time experience in a top-pairing role."
What we wrote mid-season: --"[Ristolainen] "has become an absolute beast." Those aren't my words (at least not my exact words, I called him "a bad man") rather they came from Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. Ristolainen is all of 21 yrs. old and he's leading the Sabres blueline in all categories while leading the team in total ice-time. He's also on a pace to score almost 60 points, something that hasn't been done since recent Hall of Fame inductee Phil Housley (81 points) did so back in the 1989-90 season."
Impressions on his play this year: Although he didn't even hit the 50-point mark, Ristolainen had a very strong offensive season doubling his point production from 20 in 2014-15 to 41 last season, good for a top-25 placement amongst NHL defensemen. His 25:16 average time on ice placed him 10th in the league and he was the only Sabres player to play in every game this year. The dude was a workhorse for Buffalo last season and being the stud he it was expected.
As the season wore on, however, Ristolainen's effectiveness diminished, sometimes to the point were he looked like a rookie. The pace of the game got to him a bit and his focus shifted a bit as the team wanted to seem more bite come out of him. He's a 6'4" 207 lb. physical specimen who was drafted as a d-man with some sandpaper to his game, yet that aspect hadn't made it's presence known to any discernable degree. At 21 yrs. old the team has him working on rounding out his game, which is a good thing.
Questions moving forward: Will "The Angry Finn" (as head coach Dan Bylsma called him) be able to channel Chris Pronger in becoming both fearless and feared? The more emboldened he becomes, the bigger and tougher the player coming back at him. Will he be able to up his production once again? He lead the team in powerplay assists with 17, can he be counted on to command the first powerplay unit? How well can he manage his time on ice to avert late-season slumps? And, maybe the big one this off-season, will he and the Sabres negotiate a long-term deal or go the bridge-contract route?