Sabres' Ristolainen feels he's ready to lead

Jason Botterill said players can't be in the background

Paul Hamilton
April 17, 2018 - 12:21 pm

Photo: Dan Hamilton - USA TODAY Sports

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Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Sabres general manager Jason Botterill was very clear at his end of the season press conference. Botterill said there are not enough leaders in the teams locker-room and that must change.

The first group of players he challenged was the youngsters. Botterill said, “It’s imperative we have stronger voices in there because we have players that have NHL experience in the playoffs and they have to feel more comfortable in those roles. We have younger players that have been part of this organization for three, four, five years who can’t sit in the background anymore. They have to be a part of it, we have to have a stronger leadership group.”   

Jack Eichel matured a lot this season and appears ready to lead, but he seems to be the only one.

Rasmus Ristolainen is a guy that was the captain of Team Finland when they won the World Junior Championship. He thinks he’s ready to come forward and lead a NHL team, “Yes I do. I have had some great leaders so far in the teams I’ve been here and back home and I want to learn from all those guys and be one of them.

“I need to work harder, try to be a better leader and learn from this year.”

Ristolainen is a very quiet man and, at times, has his problems on the ice so how can he be a better leader? “I feel like I can be more vocal. I feel like I work hard every day on and off the ice."

Ristolainen does not feel that his overall play was good enough. He said, “I think every single guy needs to change. This year was really tough for me, I think one of the toughest ones so far because you expect a lot and we were not there where we need to be.”

Ristolainen joins players like Jake McCabe, Zemgus Girgensons, Evan Rodrigues, Johan Larsson, Sam Reinhart and Eichel who have done nothing but lose and lose big since they entered the NHL. Ristolainen said, “It’s just really tough to lose all the time and everyone wants to make the playoffs so bad and we weren’t close, so it’s hard when at Christmas, you know you’re done and you still have 40 games to play, it’s really tough.”

Usually when you ask players if there should be changes, they say they hope not because they’re close to their teammates. Ristolainen is sick of what’s gone on in Buffalo and he wants player changes, “I hope so, there needs to be changes. Obviously, it hasn’t worked out here and I hope whatever changes they are, I think they need to be made.”

We all know this is a bad team, but there’s really no chemistry here. Ristolainen said, “You’ve got to trust yourself, your team and you’ve got to have the confidence and I’m not sure if we have it here right now, the confidence to know that we will win if we play our system.”

Ristolainen plays over 26 minutes per-game. Only Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty and Ryan Suter play more. He said he still can be better than he is now, “I want to be one of the top guys in the league. I want to try to take steps every year to be a better player, better defender, offensively and defensively.

Ristolainen will almost be 24 when next season starts. It’ll be his sixth season in the National Hockey League and the time is now. He reminds me of Tyler Myers, who had just turned 25 when Tim Murray sent him to Winnipeg. Myers won the Calder Trophy his rookie season, and then regressed every season after until be was traded. All Myers needed was time as he’s become a very good player for the Jets. Botterill has to figure out if Ristolainen just needs a little more time.  

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