Big, mean and Physical. Normally these are words one uses when describing a player from either Canada or the United States. However, for Finnish defensive prospect Rasmus Ristolainen these are the qualities that make him one of the best defensive prospect in the upcoming draft. In fact, many are comparing the game of Ristolainen to the consensus number one overall Seth Jones.
I don’t think that’s a fair comparison at all, but I do see similarities in playmaking and skating ability. Seth Jones is a much better two-way player than Ristolainen in my opinion. At 6’3 210 pounds, scouts are salivating over Ristolainen who plays for TPS Turku in the highly competitive Finnish elite league. He’s a calm player with a good two-way ability and he plays beyond his years given his late ’94 birthdate. He moves the puck well and he’s quite mobile given his size. Ristolainen’s strength comes in his defensive game. He utilizes his strength, and positioning, and his long reach to his advantage. He’s not the biggest hitter in the draft, but he plays the body and likes to get physical in front of the net, which is not traditionally the Finnish style of playing hockey.
In 52 games with TPS this year, Ristolainen put up 3 goals, and 12 assists for 15 points. Ristolainen had a good showing in Ufa at the World Juniors having 2 goals and 4 assists in 6 games played. The one thing I would like to see Ristolainen use more of is his cannon of a shot. He seems to shy away from using it and rather set up his teammates with his quick on-the-tape passes. In fact, he also has a pretty good shootout move as well.
Here is a video of his overall highlights.
A quick video of his mean streak.(Note a hit like that is illegal in Europe. The SM-Liga has become a soft league over the years.)
International scouting services has Ristolanien ranked 11th overall among all skaters. TSN and NHL network’s Craig Button, who seems to be off the wall with some his rankings, has Ristolainen 20th overall among all skaters.
I can see someone falling in love with Ristolainen and taking him top 5, however he’s most likely to go in the 6-15 range. Since the Philadelphia Flyers and Paul Holmgren are most likely going to miss out on the Jones, MacKinnon, Drouin, and Alexsander Barkov sweepstakes, they would be wise to give Ristolainen a look.
The Flyers don’t have the greatest success in drafting defenseman in the first round. The last time the Flyers drafted a blue liner in the first round was Luca Sbisa (19th overall in 2008). However, Sbisa was dealt a few years later in the Chris Pronger trade.
The last time the Flyers drafted a Finnish defenseman in the first round was Joni Pitkanen number 4 overall back in 2002. Pitkanen was a solid defenseman for the Flyers who showed flashes of brilliance over his three year career with the Flyers, but he never quite seemed to live up to all the potential.
Ristolainen compares to Pitkanen in his skating and puck moving, but hands down more of a physical player. Pitkanen is a soft player. I’m not even going to mention the Jeff Woywitka selection at number 27 overall back in 2001 when the likes of Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Fedor Tyutin, and Tomas Plekanec were still on the board.
Drafting Ristolainen would instantly help the Flyers prospect pool, which is widely considered one of the weakest in the league, and would give the Flyers a stud defensive prospect to go alongside Union College’s Shayne Gostisbehere (78th overall, ’12). Overall, this big rangy defenseman is the complete package and can play any style or role. He’s at his best when he’s picking his spots offensively and has an edgy side. He doesn’t wow you, but he has all the tools to be solid NHLer for years to come.