buf_09202023 levi camp preview

Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams expressed confidence this summer in the organization’s depth in goal, headlined by three goaltenders who suited up for the team last season.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Eric Comrie return after combining to start 51 games in 2022-23. They are joined by 21-year-old rookie Devon Levi, who joined the Sabres at the end of March and went 5-2-0 in seven starts.

“Personally, (I) believe we're in a position of strength,” Adams said. “When it comes to this, we feel that we have three NHL goaltenders, which is a great thing to have.”

With those three in the fold, the Sabres added depth by signing Dustin Tokarski and Devin Cooley to two-way contracts in free agency and stocked the pipeline by using a fifth-round draft pick on Scott Ratzlaff. Michael Houser also remained with the organization on a one-year AHL contract with Rochester.

Here is a breakdown of the seven goaltenders at Sabres camp.

NHL returnees

1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen – The 24-year-old played an NHL career-high 33 games last season and went 17-11-4 with a .891 save percentage. He went 10-2-1 with a .917 save percentage in 13 starts between Dec. 15 and Jan. 28, a stretch that included five performances of 37 saves or more.

Luukkonen reflected on that stretch as reason for confidence after the season while still expressing a desire to improve.

“It was pretty much my first year in the NHL and there's really, really good games and then there was games that weren’t that good,” he said. “It's not one thing I need to be better on. Overall, I just need to get better goalie physically and mentally still.”

27 Devon Levi – Levi didn’t miss a beat after finishing his decorated career at Northeastern University, where he twice won the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA’s top goaltender. He stopped 31 shots to win his NHL debut against the Rangers and went on to start seven high-pressure games as the Sabres fought to remain in the playoff race.

Levi became just the third goaltender since 1955-56 to earn at least five wins with 200 or more saves in their first seven NHL games. The last to do so was Carey Price.

“His foundation of his game is tremendous,” Adams said. “His athleticism’s tremendous. His mindset’s tremendous. I mean, certainly, I’m sure you guys can see that he loves this. No stage is too big for him. He thrives in this environment and by the way, he played pressure-packed games. It’s pretty impressive what he did.”

31 Eric Comrie – Injuries limited Comrie to 19 games during his first season with the Sabres. He went 5-1-1 in his final seven starts, including a 26-save shutout against the Islanders.

“I want to be (in Buffalo) as long as I can,” Comrie said after the season. “I’m really happy to be here with Uppie and Dev. For myself, it’s awesome. Two great goaltenders, we can all kind of push each other and see what happens from there.”

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Familiar faces and added depth

32 Michael Houser – Houser returns for his sixth season with the organization after signing a one-year AHL contract with Rochester during the offseason.

The 31-year-old – who memorably played six games with Buffalo during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons – had a .901 save percentage in 21 games with the Amerks least season.

40 Dustin Tokarski – Tokarski is back for his second stint in Buffalo after signing a one-year, two-way contract in July. He made a combined 43 appearances in two seasons with the Sabres prior to spending 2022-23 with the Pittsburgh organization, where he played four NHL games and 36 in the AHL.

62 Devin Cooley – Cooley, 26, also joined the Sabres on a one-year, two-way deal at the start of free agency after going 15-8-2 with a .909 save percentage for AHL Milwaukee last season.

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The prospect

34 Scott Ratzlaff – Ratzlaff, the Sabres’ fifth-round pick in this summer’s draft, got a head start to his training camp with a pair of games at the Prospects Challenge. He made 18 saves in a 6-3 win over the Canadiens and 23 saves in a 3-0 loss to the Penguins.

“I thought he showed very well all week,” Rochester Americans coach Seth Appert said.

Training camp will offer the chance for Ratzlaff to learn from Buffalo’s trio of NHL netminders. The 6-foot-0 goaltender listed Levi alongside Juuse Saros as a goalie he watches closely.

“His footwork and reads are just something that everyone can take a look at and learn from,” Ratzlaff said. “So, it’s going to be awesome to look at him, learn from him and even talk to him. It would be a huge honor.”

The 18-year-old is expected to shoulder the starting job for WHL Seattle this season. He went 25-8-0 with five shutouts and a .918 save percentage for the Thunderbirds in 2022-23.