Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Last season, Arttu Ruotsalainen played on the wing for both the Buffalo Sabres and the Rochester Americans. This year, he’s back to his natural position of center, but it hasn’t gone as well as last year did.
In 17 games with Buffalo last season, Ruotsalainen scored five goals and registered six points. This year in 10 games, he has just two points, scoring his second goal of the season on Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Even though he’s been a center all his life before coming to North America, it’s been a bit of a struggle for Ruotsalainen.
“He’s in the midst of a process," said Sabres head coach Don Granato following Sunday's practice. "This is the highest league in the world, so I don’t care where you played or what you played; if you’re new to the league, it’s going to take you some time.”
Ruotsalainen hasn’t been real noticeable, at times, this season. Granato says the 24-year-old is trying to figure out what he can and can’t do.
"[He knows he] was good at something at the previous level, but it doesn’t fit right now, and he’s gauging that every day.”
Some players have intangibles that can’t be measured.
“The underlining thing that I love about him is he won’t be denied," Granato said. "He’s extremely competitive, and that’s one reason why I would stick with him as a coach. He’s going to keep getting better.”
Ruotsalainen only averages 11:43 of ice-time per-game. Only John Hayden gets less average ice-time. That makes it difficult for him to get into a rhythm.
“I think it’s a mental toughness issue," Granato said. "I’ve always observed guys and the guys that are most successful are the guys that can keep focus and concentration and let’s face it, the guys that are ready for their opportunity, are the ones that succeed.”
Ruotsalainen knows that he has to earn his ice-time.
“Sometimes it’s hard, but I think last night it was for me, and our line and I think if we could play like that, I mean, I still think that we can play better," Ruostalainen said. "But I think that we are going in the right direction.”
Ruotsalainen is small at just 5-foot-9, but he’s not afraid to go to the areas where goals are scored. That was evident with his goal against the Red Wings.
“If you want to score, you have to go to the net," Ruotsalainen said. "I’m just following that rule and [reading] where the puck is going to go.”
Granato gave a rather lengthy injury update on Sunday.
Casey Mittelstadt has been out three-and-a-half weeks so far.
“Casey is progressing, but that is an injury that he has to give constant feedback to our medical team to gauge where he’s at day-to-day, how hard they can push him," Granato said. "With that injury, there’s just a lot of grey. You’re going day-to-day, and hope to see more progress.”
As far as Victor Olofsson goes, he and Craig Anderson won’t be on the trip to Washington when the Sabres face the Capitals on Monday.
“We got more imaging when we came back from Seattle and that helped us," Granato said of Olofsson's injury. "It gave us more clarity and it helped us, and was a positive knowing that this is going to heal.
“It’s a situation with him that when he does get back, he’ll be playing at 100%. But it’s one of those injuries where it has to be perfectly healed to perform where he needs to perform. He’s gotten much, much better, and he’s still day-to-day.”
Aaron Dell will stay on the roster. Granato didn’t say if it would be him or Dustin Tokarski in goal on Monday.