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Big Game Hunting With Rasmus Ristolainen

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Silly season is back early this year.

Buffalo Sabres v New Jersey Devils
Don’t go crazy just yet.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With this tweet, clouds began to swirl over Oilers Twitter today.

Bob Nicholson said back in February that the Oilers are interested in adding “another top pairing defender”. Today it was Ryan Rishaug who speculated that the Oilers would like to take a dip in the pool, and perhaps Buffalo defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen is where the club has their sights set. And in true Oiler fashion, they’d like to spend more than they should to acquire this player.

I applaud Bob Nicholson and the Oilers for identifying a problem that’s been existing for some time now, and the problem is that the defence has been missing a key player (or two) for quite some time. Nicholson made this comment in February when the Oilers’ playoff boat had set sail months prior, but it was refreshing to hear him identify a problem that most fans have seen for some time now. Adam Larsson was acquired in the 2016 offseason to help shore up the defence. If the Oilers plan on using Adam Larsson in the 1RD spot, they’ve got to acquire another defenceman who can play top four minutes on the right side. That player could be Rasmus Ristolainen, but...maybe the Oilers want to think about that before throwing Oscar Klefbom and the tenth pick this year down a hallway.

RISTO!

Rasmus Ristolainen was Buffalo’s eighth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, one behind Edmonton’s number seven selection (Darnell Nurse). He was injected into the lineup immediately, which is a little strange considering he was picked eighth overall. He split time with Buffalo and Rochester (AHL), but has been a mainstay on the Sabres’ blueline since then. There’s a lot to like on the outer shell, he’s a right handed shot towering at 6”4 and 210. He was scored the overtime winner in 2014’s World Junior Championship over Sweden to give Finland the gold medal. He’s going to be 24 in October, but he’s already amassed 346 career NHL games. He averaged 26 and a half minutes of ice time per game in 2017-18, finishing with 41 points (6-35-41) in 73 games.

QUESTIONS!

At one time, I stumped a little bit for the Oilers to swing for Ristolainen in free agency. I stand by the fact that acquiring his rights for a late round pick would still make sense if the right deal could be done. We are past that point, as Ristolainen now comes with a 5.4MM cap hit for the next four years. Although he plays the most minutes in Buffalo, he’s not where you want him to be if you’re going to pay him like a top defenceman.

The Oilers should absolutely not under any circumstance trade Oscar Klefbom and the tenth overall pick for Rasmus Ristolainen.

WHY NOT?

You’re going to hear a lot about how Ristolainen scored 41 points, and that’s pretty good for a defenceman. I’m not going to lie, the Oilers could use a little offence from their defence. Let’s see how Ristolainen got to 41 points last season...

Ristolainen had 41 points over the 2017-18 season. Of those 41 points...

  • 18 were even strength (5v5, 4v4)
  • 23 were power play (5v4, 4v3)

Ristolainen played the most minutes in Buffalo in 2017-18, it’s really no surprise that he logs the most power play minutes per game in Buffalo as well. How much more? Lots. Ristolainen averaged 3:46 minutes on the power play per game. The next Sabre regular was Marco Scandella, who averaged 1:31 power play time per game. Ristolainen plays well over twice as much power play time per game as the next player, let’s see what Scandella’s numbers look like.

Marco Scandella had 22 points over the 2017-18 season. Of those 22 points...

  • 17 were even strength (5v5, 4v4)
  • 4 were power play (5v4, 4v3)
  • 1 was shorthanded (4v5).

Rasmus Ristolainen’s point totals are so lovely due to him spending an hour and a half on the ice per game. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the reason why his numbers look so damn good. If Marco Scandella is performing near you in even strength points (and he plays quite a bit less per game), how much offence are you generating?

MOST IMPORTANTLY, CAN HE PLAY DEFENCE?

Yes.

His giveaway/takeaway ratio is a strong bit of concern as he’s a bit wily in his own end, but there’s a fair bit to like about a 6’4” 210 defenceman who can clear the net. He plays a lot in Buffalo, and he’d probably benefit from a few minute reduction and some sheltered minutes. For all of that, I don’t think those are the words I want to hear about a top four guy with a 5.4 million cap hit that costs a very good Oilers defenceman and their tenth overall pick.

The Oilers are probably going to go after a RHD to play in the top four in this offseason. Trading Klefbom shouldn’t be the first option, though we’ve all been here too long to know better.