So much of the draft talk for 2013 has been revolving around American defenseman standout Seth Jones. While the big, mobile, and often dominant blue liner deserves the headlines, there is another defensive stud to watch for. He too is quite large with a 6-3, 205 pound frame that he is able to move around well, and he also plays with maturity beyond his age.
Just like Jones, if his birthdate was not late in 1994, then he would has heard his name called early at the podium this past June in Pittsburgh. If you haven’t a clue yet on this up and coming prospect, I am talking about the Finnish defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.
He again is set to play this season with the big boys of the top professional league of Finland, SM-liiga, for TPS Turku. I recently got a good personal viewing of this potential top ten selection for the upcoming NHL Draft.
He participated a few weeks ago at the National Junior Evaluation Camp that ran August 4-11th in Lake Placid, NY. Here along with his fellow countrymen he played a series of games against the best under-20 players from the United States and Sweden.
You notice his game right away because it is pretty entertaining to see such a big body move so soundly but also he can handle the puck extraordinarily well. He is able to find the open man most efficiently too. Ristolainen does not have blazing speed, although he can get going up the ice nicely and will create opportunities offensively with this.
During the NJEC, he displayed his heavy wrister and bomb of a shot a few times from the point.
For a 17-year old, he can still improve upon his strength, but more so to perhaps be more explosive in his skating. His defensive game was quite good as he positioned himself well constantly, controlled his gaps, used his long reach, and was reliable in one-on-one situations. He plays very strong along the walls, corners, and has mean attitude as well.
He could stand to play with more care in his own zone, but that will come with time and development. He anticipates suitably and with more playing time this season he will gain more confidence and only grow his game.
The KHL already took a shot at this Scandinavian gem in their draft as he was he went in the first round, 12th overall to Amur Khabarovsk in 2012.
It is very difficult to find that all-around, complete defenseman that makes crisp outlet passes, will jump into the play to get involved offensively, plays poised with the puck, sound defensively, and physical with an intimidating physique.
The WJCs this winter in Ufa, Russia will have many eyes upon Ristolainen. Let’s just hope your favorite NHL team has the opportunity to select him come June.