Rasmus Ristolainen is having a break out season for the Buffalo Sabres. With 8 goals and 23 assists in just 50 games, he is on pace to have one of the best seasons by a Sabre defenseman ever.
Ristolainen is on pace for 51 points, including 13 goals. That would be the most points by a Sabre defenseman since Garry Galley's 54 points in 1995-96, and the most goals since Richard Smehlik's 14 goals in 1993-94. Ristolaien is putting up the same numbers, but in an era where scoring is way down. The Sabres are on pace for 187 goals this season. When Smehlik scored 14 goals, the Sabres had 282 goals that season.
Not only is Ristolainen having an incredible season by Sabres standards, he's been one of the best in the entire league. He ranks 10th by NHL defenseman in points, and 12th in goals. Of the nine defenseman better than him in points, six were named to the all-star game. Now of the three ahead of him that did not make it, two should be all-stars. John Klingberg has 40 points, good for 3rd by defenseman, and is relied on heavily by the Dallas Stars. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is in the same boat. Tyson Barrie also has more points than Ristolainen, but he doesn't play the defensive role that the others do. Since the NHL requires that every team gets an all-star, some players that don't deserve to be in over these players are going. Dustin Byfuglien is going over Klingberg, undeserved. Mark Giordano is going over OEL, undeserved.
With Ristolainen's snub, there isn't the "his team needed a player" excuse. Aaron Ekblad is going as the second Florida Panther representative with Jaromir Jagr. Now don't get me wrong, Ekblad is having a tremendous season, even better than last season. He has 10 goals and 11 assists in 45 games. That's 10 less points than Ristolainen.
Another large difference between Ristolainen and Ekblad, is Risto is relied on in every situation in Buffalo to be "the guy". He plays the most power play minutes, the most shorthanded minutes, and the most even strength minutes. Ristolainen averages the most time on ice for the Sabres at 25:11. Ekblad averages 20:47, which just edges Willie Mitchell for second among Panthers defensemen. Brian Campbell leads the team with 21:39.
Ekblad is apart of a very balanced Florida defense core, that sees all three pairings playing sold minutes. Ristolainen is the defense core right now. Zach Bogosian is beginning to climb in average ice time at 22:05, which is mainly because he's played with Rasmus as of late. Josh Gorges is third with 20:15. Bogosian and Gorges have a combined 22 missed games, which doesn't help Ristolainen either. For comparison, Campbell and Mitchell have missed just three games.
It's not highway robbery that Ekblad made it over Ristolainen, but it's not hard to see the argument that Ristolaien deserves it more. He won't be playing in this years all-star game, but Sabres fans can look forward to "the angry Fin" being named an all-star for many years. He may even have a Norris Trophy season or two in his future.