NHL Draft prospects: No. 16 Rasmus Ristolainen

TPS Turku defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen. (CP/Jeff McIntosh)

Intro: Sportsnet.ca is previewing the top 30 prospects in the 30 days leading up to the National Hockey League draft in New Jersey on June 30.

Two-way Finnish defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen is next in our top 30 countdown.

Stats: TPS (SM-liiga) | 52 GP | 3 G | 12 A | 15 P | -7 | 32 PIM

Who is Rasmus Ristolainen?
Ristolainen rose up the ranks of Finnish hockey quickly, first playing in his country’s top league, the SM-liiga, at age 16 – the second youngest player to skate in the league’s history. Since then, he suited up for Finland at various tournaments, including the last two world juniors. He was the captain of the Finnish squad in Ufa, Russia in January, posting a respectable six points in six games during his team’s disappointing early exit.

Rasmus Ristolainen’s scouting report:
Ristolainen plays a solid, well-rounded game. He possesses good size at six-foot-three, 201 pounds, and uses it advantageously to separate his man from the puck and to gain space. Ristolainen plays a very heady game and won’t force a play that isn’t there. He has a good shot and will jump up in the rush at a moment’s notice. His defensive game is polished, his hockey IQ is one of his greatest attributes and he will read and react to plays and situations well. Although his season finished on an underwhelming note, Ristolainen does so many things well that he should be a safe pick for a team seeking a two-way defenceman.

Teams who might be interested in Rasmus Ristolainen:
The Philadelphia Flyers have been in search of quality defencemen for years. There’s no better place to address this need than with a player like Ristolainen, a late birthdate who’s been playing pro for several years and may be ready to make the jump to the NHL as early as next season. They will have several options around the 11th pick and Ristolainen would make a lot of sense for the Flyers.

Scout’s take: “I can’t get enough of Ristolainen,” says Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services. “He is everything you could want in a defensive prospect. He can do a bit of everything and has been doing it against men already. He is very poised, can play offence and defence, can be aggressive physically or hang back and control middle space effectively. He can play tough, he can play mean and he can play disciplined. He’s a ball of extremely talented clay that is versatile enough that he could be molded into whatever type of defender a team requires in their organization. He is right up there as one of the most NHL-ready prospects in this draft.”

“Rasmus Ristolainen’s been a household name in the SM-liiga since he was 16,” adds David Burstyn, director of scouting for McKeen’s Hockey. “He’s improved his stats every single year, but he probably factors to be more of a shutdown guy at the NHL level. He played for TPS this year, which wasn’t that great of a team, but he got to log a lot of minutes. The one thing that scouts were a little disappointed with him is that he didn’t overly assertive himself in the second half of the year and he kind of fell off a little bit because he didn’t play with that same type of intensity.

“He’s a strong skater. He can log the puck up the ice, he’s not afraid to make plays but I think scouts were a little disappointed that he didn’t play up to his size, whereas he has in the past. He’s been in the spotlight for really the last three years and maybe he was unfairly dissected, but he’s got a lot of attributes to be a stout, stay-at-home shutdown defender.”

Rankings: Ristolainen was ranked fourth by the NHL’s Central Scouting (European skaters), 11th by International Scouting Services and 21st by McKeen’s Hockey.

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