The Buffalo fan base has endured some painful times, but the tide is quickly turning with the ascent of Jack Eichel, increased NHL caliber depth and the continued rise of their backend pillar Rasmus Ristolainen. Entering the first season of his young career, Ristolainen is coming into his own as a multi-category must own. For those lucky owners who have him penciled into a keeper slot enjoy the next decade of production, which could realistically be improved upon once again.
Taking a look at certain statistical aspects throughout Ristolainen’s career a couple of numbers stand out strongly over time. His PDO finally hit 1000 plus this past season after improving little by little each year, telling us that after countless times of things just not going Buffalo’s way the puck luck is beginning to turn. Ristolainen’s ice time has jumped considerably in three years, and was up a full six minutes since 2014-15 last season. His average power-play time per game climbed and so did his numbers with the man advantage. Ristolainen was one of few defensemen to post 150 plus hits, shots and blocks on the season.
Ristolainen anchored a defensive corps with a rotation of partners last season and put out his best offensive show without Jack Eichel for 21 games. No other name on their blue line carries any true pedigree, so Ristolaien really has to put the defense corps on his back. No player has come over this offseason to contest Ristolainen as the premier defender and despite the regime change he should be in line for frequent deployment again. More importantly he has established himself as a great puck distributor on the power play (24 assists to 1 goal) and will continue to quarterback a strong top unit.
If there is one thing to have reservations about with Ristolainen, despite all the positives, it’s his streak production. The first quarter of the season was relatively quiet for him with nine assists in 21 games played, enter the second quarter and he ended up with 0.90 points per game in this 20 game span. The last two quarters of the season replicated same vicinity of his points-per-game pace as first quarter and overall there was a reliance on power-play production. For Ristolainen to hit another tier he and the Sabres will both have to be better at even strength.
Ristolainen is a building block in keeper settings, but expectations should remain tempered going into this season, as the team is still finding its way and his production will go with their ebbs and flows. In multi-category leagues, it helps to know that even when the points are not coming in, he’ll still provide high-end marks in the peripheral categories. For those in points-only settings, he is still a great piece to own, and the day will come when he usurps 50 points. It could be 2017-18, too.
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