Rasmus Ristolainen's mood was not somber when he walked into the KeyBank Center media room on the first official day of Buffalo Sabres training camp.
The 24-year-old defenseman smiled, cracked a joke about the media eagerly waiting to speak to him and expressed excitement for his seventh training camp with the team. His demeanor was in stark contrast to what one would expect after he hinted to a Finnish news outlet last month that a change of scenery could be beneficial after another angst-filled losing season.
However, Ristolainen would not tell reporters whether he requested a trade from the Sabres this offseason or if he was surprised to still be on the roster, answering the former question by saying his conversations with General Manager Jason Botterill would remain private.
"Conversations me and Jason have had are going to stay between us," Ristolainen said.
Ristolainen wouldn't even comment on whether he was surprised to be in Buffalo at the start of training camp or if he expects to be here in March.
"I mean, I’ve been here six years and I’ve seen this business," Ristolainen said. "You never know where you will be next week or next month. When I’m back home, it’s easy to go away from hockey and not worry about things you can’t control. Now I’m here, I’m happy and I’m ready to go."
Ristolainen has been mentioned in trade rumors since February, though there have not been any substantive reports about a possible destination. When broached with the topic of Ristolainen's future, Botterill has defended the maligned defenseman, calling Ristolainen a "developing player" and expressing optimism that Ristolainen could improve under new coach Ralph Krueger.
Krueger also has told reporters he is excited to work with Ristolainen and said the defenseman has untapped potential. Ristolainen finished last season with an NHL-worst rating of minus-41, which isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of his overall performance, but is the second-worst mark by any player since the 2004-05 lockout and tied for the worst in franchise history.
New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy was minus-42 in 2017-18. Hall of Fame center Gilbert Perreault posted a minus-41 rating for the Sabres in 1971-72, his second season in the league.
Ristolainen cited the Sabres' 10-game winning streak last November and an improved roster as reasons why he has hope the team will have success in the future. He also told reporters he embraces the competition of having six other right-shot defensemen on training camp roster and is encouraged by his early conversations with Krueger.
Ristolainen explained why he spoke to the Finnish news outlet and offered some context as to why his demeanor was somber during locker cleanout day in April.
"I was just explaining, personally, how I felt and when you have rough years like I’ve had here the past six years and you don’t win much, that’s what you want," Ristolainen. "Things get rough and you get [upset]. I was just telling [the media in Finland] the year wasn’t easy for me and I wasn’t blaming anyone else. Myself, I’m hard on myself."