New Jersey Devils Shouldn’t Spend A Lot On Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Ristolainen - Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Rasmus Ristolainen - Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

On Tuesday, multiple outlets reported that the New Jersey Devils could be looking at the Buffalo Sabres as a possible trade target. Specifically, they are targeting defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Like with many young Sabres players, Ristolainen was once a promising player that never really lived up to his potential.

The 6’4 defenseman is a former eighth-overall pick that was supposed to spend years at the top of the defensive pairings. He came into the NHL with a style of play that looked five years his senior. His offensive skills were apparent without losing much on the defensive side. Unfortunately, that was eight years ago, and he’s been in the NHL every season.

Ristolainen can still play offense, but his defense is severely lacking. Sound familiar? The Devils already have players with these issues. Ristolainen is a project worth testing out, but the Devils aren’t really in a position to be that team. They already have P.K. Subban and Damon Severson on the right side. Ristolainen is in the same boat with the style of play and ability to play like a second liner as both the Devils’ veterans.

Rasmus Ristolainen is not a good fit for the New Jersey Devils.

There are a lot of players like that on the Sabres. Sam Reinhart is another one who is absolutely available this offseason. Jack Eichel‘s availability has been well documented. Casey Middlestadt never hit the star quality everyone expected after his performance at World Juniors in 2018. The Sabres are the worst team in the league despite picking high in the draft for 10 years now.

Back to Ristolainen. He’s a fine player for what he is, but what he is doesn’t solve the Devils’ problems. Is it worth a flier on a player with eight years of NHL experience at 26 years old? On paper, sure. However, the NHL isn’t played on paper. Just about every metric except points shows Ristolainen is just a frustrating player. The Devils have enough of them on defense.

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The other issue here is Ristolainen is in the last year of his deal. He’s making $5.4 million, which on its surface isn’t a problem. The issue is the Sabres would want assets to help their future. Unless they are willing to take a couple of B-level prospects and a middle-round pick, then this trade isn’t worth the price. It would be worth it for another team, so that makes it very surprising the Devils have been named specifically in trade talks.