Rasmus Ristolainen is the type of player that has some scouts drooling while others feeling a bit more conservative about when it comes to his potential in the NHL. At 6-4, 207 (and still plenty of room to grow), Ristolainen is an incredibly talented and intelligent defenseman who is already playing at a high level for TPS in Finland.
Depending on who you talk to, Ristolainen is an offensively-gifted two-way defenseman or a superb defenseman in his own zone with good potential regarding what sort of numbers he could put up in the NHL. What is very clear is that he is perhaps the best defenseman in this draft when playing in his own zone, using his superb hockey sense, size and skill in a shutdown role while also being capable of quickly and effectively moving the puck up the ice.
These different interpretations of his skills and upside has led to wide variance in his ranking by scouts. Central Scouting has him ranked No. 4 among European Skaters, with Corey Pronman ranking him No. 8 overall (along with TSN). Meanwhile, McKeen's (21st overall) and The Hockey News (22nd overall) has Ristolainen ranked much lower.
Playing tough minutes in the top league in Finland, Ristolainen is a physically gifted player who already uses his size very well. While some scouts feel he could become a bit "nastier," he's proven he's more than willing to play tough and dirty around his net and is far from a one-dimensional puck-moving defenseman. This is a player who really can do it all, in any situation, and will receive time both on the power play and on the penalty kill.
While his size and skills are notable, what continues to come up in regards to Ristolainen is his incredible intelligence when the puck is on his stick. He rarely makes a mistake and is capable of a fast, accurate and smart first pass out of the zone that will be the key to any transition game in the NHL.
What isn't known is just what sort of offensive potential he possesses. Most have him pegged as a shutdown defenseman with decent offensive upside, the sort of top-pairing blueliner capable of 25-30 points a season while playing most of the tough minutes a team can hand out. He is not "flashy" in the sense that you would expect from a player receiving such effusive praise; instead, he is described as a player who has all of the tools and will be a solid shutdown player on the blueline while never really showing up on the highlight reels.
Put it all together, and Ristolainen is a player who will be a top-pairing option that would be ideal for a more offensively-dynamic partner and whose path to the NHL will likely be much faster than most young defensemen.
He is also a right-handed shot.
Ristolainen had a quality season in Finland, where he often logged tough, heavy minutes for TPS. That is an impressive role for an 18-year-old defenseman in that league. He is not a flashy player, but he does everything well. He best skill is his hockey sense. He thinks the game at a level well beyond his years, and he does not make many mistakes on the ice. He is an aware, effective defenseman who can close gaps with his body or with his stick. With the puck, he shows calmness, but he can process the game quickly when the situation calls for it. He can man the point on the power play. He is a solid to above-average skater (I have heard an NHL scout classify him as high end in that area). His puck handling is at a similar level; he can flash significant offensive ability, but the bulk of value will come from his work in his own zone. To that point, he will lay the body, and he can provide quality hits. He could fast track to the NHL quicker than a typical defense prospect.
International Scouting Services (Ranked No. 11)
An ISS favorite for several years now, Ristolainen is about as safe of a prospect as you could ask for. He is already huge, skates extremely well, is confident and poised around the puck and understands his limitations. He plays a good physical style and doen'st back down from anyone but is rarely over-aggressive. He calculates the game very well. Ristolainen makes a great first pass, distributes the puck effectively from the point and can also get the puck to the net very well from the back end. He is not afraid to put it all on the line for his team, playing tough and gritty when need be. He is the type of player coaches love to see in their lineup.
HockeyProspect.com Draft Guide (Ranked No. 9)
Ristolainen is an aggressive offensive defenseman who always looks to push the pace whenever he gets the opportunity. He loves to take chances with the puck, and provides a good presence from the backend offensively with his size, hockey sense and puck skills. The first thing you notice about Ristolainen is his positioning in the defensive zone. Whenever the play is along the half wall or around the blue line, he creeps up to the high slot and waits for his team to get possession of the puck so that he can join the rush. There are times when he gets caught and opponents have a small odd man scoring chance, but more often than not he does pick his spots quite well and is able to create an odd man rush up the ice for his team. Defensively, Ristolainen is physical along the boards, and maintains an excellent gap off the rush. He is very aggressive in the neutral zone, and does not give opponents a free pass to gain the blue line. He uses his stick quite effectively, and is able to knock away pucks on a consistent basis. Ristolainen does a good job of knowing what is happening around him at all times, and puts himself in solid position again and again to be a factor without the puck.