The Buffalo Sabres have fallen out of the race for the Eastern Conference wild card race, going 3-6-3 since the NHL trade deadline in early March. This is due mostly to their struggles on defense and between the pipes. Currently, the Sabres are seven points in back of the Pittsburgh Penguins (with two games in hand) for the last wild card spot and have the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators ahead of them.
With their chances fading, and veteran netminder Craig Anderson day-to-day with an upper-body injury, head coach Don Granato has opted to give prized goaltending prospect Devon Levi his first start against the New York Rangers on Friday.
The Sabres signed Levi to a three-year, entry-level deal after completing his junior season at Northeastern. The 21-year-old has been with the club for a couple of weeks and had to wait until his immigration paperwork was completed before being able to start practicing. He is anxious to embark on his professional career.
“It’s exciting. I’ve been doing this moment my whole life. So, for it to finally be here, it’s a big deal and I’m really excited,” Levi said on Thursday. “You never know what’s going to happen until you’re out there and reading the play and kind of scan field for the game. So, I’ll do my studying a little bit tonight, but tomorrow, (it will be) just instinctual out there.”
Levi is coming off a storied collegiate and international career, having been named the top goaltender at the IIHF 2021 World Juniors and winning a silver medal with Team Canada. He also earned a spot on Canada’s 2022 Winter Olympics roster, won the Mike Richter Award for the NCAA’s top goaltender in 2021, and was a two-time finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Levi has played with current members of the Sabres at the WJC and the Olympics, but the step from Northeastern to the NHL is something that could take the young netminder some time.
“I do feel that our team and players have a familiarity with (Devon) and vice versa. I feel that he’s come in and fit very well here very fast and lots of different dynamics help that,” Granato said on Friday. “He has had some time; he’s had some practice time. It’s a progression of getting acclimated to our organization.”
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by Full Press Coverage on May 27, 2023 at 7:49 pm
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The Sabres plan is to let Levi complete the season in Buffalo instead of potentially playing for AHL Rochester in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“We thought it was really important to have Devon integrate right away into our team. I want to make sure that we get him comfortable,” Sabres GM Kevyn Adams said earlier in the month. “We thought for his development and where we are right now, this was a critical time to learn and grow with us.”
The question that cannot be answered now but Adams will have to ponder is what direction the club will take in goal next season. Anderson is likely to retire, Eric Comrie has struggled with injuries & inconsistency, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has had an up-and-down campaign, which casts doubt over whether he can handle the full-time starting duties.
With the Sabres pushing to be a playoff team and their fan base growing impatient after extending their playoff drought to 12 years, the club may be in a position where they have to find an upgrade on Luukkonen/Comrie for one or two seasons while Levi gains experience in the American Hockey League next year.
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