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BUFFALO — Rasmus Ristolainen is still a member of the Buffalo Sabres. As long as that remains the case, new coach Ralph Krueger said he’s looking forward to working with him.
“We’ve been communicating even these last few days,” Krueger said Monday. “I know that it’s going to be fun to work with a player with that skill and ability. I have nothing but excitement for working with him. I know there’s a lot of potential there that’s still untapped, and it’s up to me and the coaches to find out what that is.”
The 24-year-old defenseman’s future with the Sabres has been questioned after they acquired defensemen Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju in separate trades with the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks. The Sabres are slated to head into training camp, which opens Thursday, with five right-handed defensemen who can play in the NHL.
“I cannot say anything other than the fact that on the 12th of September, I will be at one of the NHL team’s training camps,” Ristolainen said in remarks translated by the Buffalo News last month.
But Ristolainen was scheduled to arrive in Buffalo on Monday, according to Krueger, and join teammates for an informal practice Tuesday.
“In our conversations with him, it’s been positive and I think Risto’s always been someone who comes to camp in extremely good shape,” Botterill said. “I think there’s going to be an adjustment for all our players with a new head coach trying to bring together exactly what coaches are going to want from a system standpoint and where they fit in with the group. I’m sure those conversations will go well with Risto and our entire team.”
With needs at center and right wing, Ristolainen’s name has been often mentioned in trade rumors as a player who could fetch that help. He has three years remaining on a six-year contract worth $5.4 million per season. The Sabres selected him with the No. 8 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. He has 194 points (36 goals, 158 assists) in 424 games for Buffalo.
One option on the wing is Jason Pominville. An unrestricted free agent, the 36-year-old has been working out and skating with Sabres players in Buffalo. Botterill has remained in contact with Pominville and will “continue to communicate with him” in the days leading up to training camp. Pominville had 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 73 games for the Sabres last season.
“I haven’t ruled it out, but we’re very excited about where we are from a depth standpoint and the competition we’re going to have,” he said. “We want to make sure we give our young players enough of an opportunity.”
Botterill said he doesn’t anticipate giving anyone a professional tryout offer before camp begins. Instead, the goal is to see how the younger players push the veterans.
“We’ve shown in the past it hasn’t been lip service, it’s been with our actions that if [younger] players knock out veteran players they’re going to have the opportunity to be here, and that’s what we’re going to be looking for,” Botterill said. “We talked a lot to that about players coming into our organization, giving them an opportunity. We’ve talked a lot about our returning players challenging them to be ready to go right away because we want to bring more players and to have more success as an organization.”
Krueger said he and Botterill are on the same page and believes the competition will help in figuring out the roster.
“You want players to come in a little uncomfortable about where the ice time is going to be and how they’re going to get there,” Krueger said. “I think that the processes will be laid out clearly; it’ll be very open communication on what it’s going to take and then it’s up to the players to answer those questions. And I’m convinced that the players will decide that on the ice, and it will be easy for us at the end.”
Botterill and Krueger said they’ve seen excitement from their players and an eagerness to get going. Krueger watched an informal practice Monday and said he “could feel the energy is really upbeat and everybody’s happy to be back and ready to go.”
“I look forward to getting to know this group, I look forward to feeding the competition that we have now with the deeper roster and seeing how everybody reacts,” he said. “And of course, I look forward to bringing in the culture that we want to see on the ice and the principles and the concepts as quickly as possible.”