Buffalo Sabres: More pressure on Rasmus Ristolainen this season?

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Rasmus Ristolainen
BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 8: Rasmus Ristolainen /

The Buffalo Sabres need better play from the blue line this season to become realistic playoff contenders, including potentially relying more on Rasmus Ristolainen.

When looking back on last season for the Buffalo Sabres, it’s clear their biggest weakness related to their blue liners. As such, they attempted to take steps during the offseason, to improve this situation.

However, it will likely be someone already on the roster, that will play a significant part in getting better play from the defense. More specifically, Rasmus Ristolainen.

Ristolainen had arguably his best season yet, during the 2016/17 campaign. He set career highs for assists (leading the team in this category), overall points and average ice time.

And yet, there’s every chance the Buffalo Sabres will need to rely on him even more, as they prepare for the start of the regular season. This is despite the fact his average ice time of 26:28 last season, was fifth-highest in the NHL.

One reason for a potentially increased workload comes down to the situation at practice on Sunday. As reported by WGR 550’s Paul HamiltonZach Bogosian and Jake McCabe were not involved.

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Phil Housley attempted to play down the injuries to the duo, insisting they were essentially taking a cautious approach. Regardless, as the projected No. 2 pairing, it’s tough not to be a little concerned, with the real action fast approaching.

Similarly, Marco Scandella — who is expected to pair up with Ristolainen — has a history of battling injuries. However, he did not play in any of the Sabres’ exhibition games, as he continued his recovery from hip surgery.

When taking this all into account, you can appreciate why Housley may need Ristolainen more than ever. At least the 22-year-old has proved durable, only missing three games during the last two seasons, and that was only due to a suspension.

For his part, Ristolainen is ready to do whatever it takes, to help the Buffalo Sabres win. As reported by Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News, he said:

"“That’s what I practice for, I’m in great shape. Like I said last year, you don’t practice to just play 20 minutes. You practice to be in great shape and try to earn as many minutes as possible. I like to play as much as I earn. I don’t think there are any limits. You have to keep your mind and body fresh.”"

Ristolainen is beginning to show the talent, which convinced the Sabres to draft him eighth overall, in 2013. He has everything you want from a defenseman, including size, a physically game and an excellent shot.

However, Housley and Sabres must resist the temptation to overuse him, no matter how fit he is. If this is the season they are to finally return to the playoffs, they will need a healthy and fresh Ristolainen for the stretch run.

Next: Can Marco Scandella remain healthy?

What kind of season are you predicting for Ristolainen? How confident are you in his ability to take on a increased workload for the Buffalo Sabres? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.