One of the first moves of the Buffalo Sabres’ new regime was to send away several young players to make room for more experienced prospects. Rasmus Ristolainen and Johan Larsson were sent to Rochester to play against top prospects and grizzled veterans.
Larsson has been in the minors before. For Ristolainen, Wednesday night was his first taste of the AHL.
The opening shift for the Sabres’ eighth overall pick in 2013 was, well, inauspicious. Ristolainen slammed a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins forward into the boards after the puck was gone, the referee’s arm went up and the 6-foot-4 D-man went to the box.
Despite the bumpy beginning, Buffalo’s top pick showed no signs of send-down slacking.
“I thought from the standpoint of all-out compete level he was very good,” head coach Chadd Cassidy said after the 3-1 loss. “He’s got a heavy shot, he doesn’t lose a lot of battles, I thought he made a lot of good passes coming out of the zone, too.”
The Buffalo Brass’s reasoning on sending Ristolainen down was that he has a lot to learn about playing professional hockey before he’s ready to play every night in the NHL. There were times it was clear his decision making is still in need of improvement.
Midway through the third period, Ristolainen spotted a puck coming toward the boards and quickly pinched in to keep the puck in the offensive zone. The puck was going too quickly and there was no support from a forward for him to jump up. One second later, a two-on-one. Ristolainen was bailed out by good defense by veteran Alexander Sulzer and a solid save by Matt Hackett.
It was a bad play. But he’ll learn. Cassidy confirmed that it wasn’t the right call to jump up at the time. Again, he’ll learn.
Ristolainen finished the night a minus-2 with three shots on goal.
Patrick Kaleta’s name has been thrown around for the next call up. Kaleta did not play on Wednesday with a lower body injury but is likely to play on Friday night.
Thing is, PK may not be the one who gets the buzz if Mikhail Grigorenko is moved to juniors or someone is injured. Kevin Porter scored the Amerks’ only goal on a rebound in front of the net. When Porter was in Buffalo, he was the team’s leading forward in Corsi % (shot attempts at the net vs. opponents’ shot attempts). Porter is a “Ted Nolan guy” in that he works hard, wins battles, hits, kills penalties and so forth – and he doesn’t have a history like Kaleta.
Cassidy said he has been impressed by the competitiveness and stick skills of Joel Armia. The rookie only played his fourth game in the AHL and had some impressive moments, including a backcheck to steal the puck at center ice, several whistling wrist shots and several solid efforts behind the net.
He still needs time to learn the North American game. He has a tendency to try to stick handle around four defenders, which doesn’t work in the AHL or NHL unless your last name is Datsyuk.
Matt Hackett stopped 21 of 23 shots in the loss, but didn’t deserve to come out a loser. He made several spectacular saves in the first period that kept the team in the game.
Hackett has gotten over his early issues and has played a much stronger game in net of late. A trend that could give the team a little more confidence about bringing him up if there were a Ryan Miller move.
Tim Schaller had four shots on goal. His offense has taken a step forward since moving to the wing. He’s a guy to keep an eye on as a quality defensive forward.