4. Arttu Ruotsalainen
Another intriguing free agent deal the Buffalo Sabres made was in May of 2019 when they announced the signing of Finnish forward Arttu Ruotsalainen. The now 23-year-old was in the process of his sixth season in the SM-liiga before heading to North America, where he will play in the AHL for the 2020-21 season. He was in the midst of his best professional season to date, posting 16 goals and 27 points in just 19 games played for Ilves Tampere this season.
Over the past three seasons, Ruotsalainen’s numbers have improved dramatically. Through his first three seasons in the league (145 games) he had just 31 points. In the three years since, however (122 games) he has put up a much more impressive 112 points. It remains to be seen how he will adjust to a different style of play, but at this point he is a very exciting prospect.
3. Ryan Johnson
The top prospect the Sabres have on the blueline is Ryan Johnson, who they selected with the last pick in the First-Round (No. 31 overall) at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. At the time he was drafted, he was coming off his first and only season in the USHL where he put up 25 points and a plus/minus rating of plus 24 in 54 games with the Sioux Fall Stampeders. He then went on to play as a freshman last season for the University of Minnesota, though it was a bit of a down year as he managed just eight points in 37 contests.
Johnson’s sophomore season is off to a much better start. The 19-year-old defenseman is just one-point shy of last seasons total despite only appearing in 10 games. He has clearly taken a big step forward and is proving to be the player the Sabres thought they were getting the day they drafted him. Sabres fans were able to watch him very recently on the World Stage as he was able to help lead Team USA to a gold medal at the 2021 World Juniors. He suited up for all seven games at the tournament, scoring a goal and adding three assists.