Sabres sign Ristolainen to 6-year, $32.4 million contract

New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac, left, battles for possession against Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The Buffalo Sabres have signed defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen just in time for the start of the season.

The team announced Ristolainen signed a six-year, $32.4 million contract on Tuesday, two days before Buffalo opens the season hosting the Montreal Canadiens. Ristolainen was a restricted free agent, whose rights were retained by the Sabres in June.

“Rasmus has already proven to be a pivotal player on our blue line, and we are eager to have him back with the team,” general manager Tim Murray said in a statement released by the Sabres. “This deal is a reflection of the hard work and improvement Rasmus has shown since being drafted. And we hope to see him continue on this trajectory moving forward.”

The 21-year-old Ristolainen has become Buffalo’s top defenseman in just three seasons since being selected in the first round of the 2013 draft. Last year, Ristolainen led the team in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and led Buffalo defensemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).

Overall, he has 19 goals and 46 assists for 65 points in 194 career games.

Ristolainen represented Finland in the World Cup of Hockey last month and thenreported to Sabres training camp in what was regarded as a sign of good faith in a bid to spur contract talks. He practiced with the team but was not allowed to play in preseason games.

Ristolainen’s signing means the Sabres should have their full complement of top-six defenseman available to open the season.

Veterans Dmitry Kulikov (bruised back) and Zach Bogosian (groin) returned to practice Tuesday, and coach Dan Bylsma expects them to be ready to play against the Canadiens. The Sabres acquired Kulikov in a trade with Florida in June.

The status of top-line forwards Ryan O’Reilly (back and abdomen spasms) and Kyle Okposo (bruised knee) remains uncertain. Both skated during individual drills before leaving the ice once the team session began.

Though both are improving, but Bylsma expressed concern about rushing them back into the lineup with limited practice time.

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