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'I'm just trying to learn' | Luukkonen hopes to benefit on taxi squad

Goaltender was reassigned from Rochester on Tuesday

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen may not appear in a game during his current stint with the Buffalo Sabres, an assignment necessitated by injuries to both Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton. 

Sabres interim coach Don Granato still expects it to be an invaluable experience for the 22-year-old goaltender.

"Every moment you're with the NHL team is big," Granato said. "… You have to acclimate and feel that you belong and take ownership of being at that level, and when you do, those players flourish, they play to their actual potential at that time. 

"So, confidence is an enormous part of it, that self-projection. The more time a prospect can get around it, the easier it becomes for them to associate, 'Yes, I belong here.' It moves from a dream to a reality for every player in that regard. So, it's a big moment."

Luukkonen was watching on TV when Hutton sustained his injury against the New York Rangers on Monday. With Ullmark still on injured reserve, the loss of Hutton left Dustin Tokarski and Michael Houser as Buffalo's two healthy goaltenders. 

Teams are required to carry at least one goaltender on the taxi squad this season, prompting Luukkonen to get the call on Tuesday. 

Video: UKKO-PEKKA LUUKKONEN

Luukkonen has had a promising trajectory since being selected by the Sabres during the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft. He turned heads upon joining the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League for his first North American season in 2018-19, rewriting the team's record books while capturing the Red Tilson Trophy as the league's most outstanding player. He won a gold medal with Finland at the World Junior Championship that January, icing on the cake for a storybook year. 

The Sabres have since taken their time with Luukkonen's development. He spent the majority of last season with the organization's ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones, where he posted a .912 save percentage in 23 games and earned a sport in the league's All-Star Game. His results in 10 games at the AHL level with Rochester were less dazzling - 3-4-4 with a .874 save percentage - but proved to be valuable. Luukkonen began this season with TPS of Finland's top pro league and has since returned to Rochester a more comfortable, confident goalie. 

Luukkonen has started eight of 10 games for the Amerks this season, going 5-2-1 with a .904 save percentage.

"The game is all-around more solid," he said. "I feel like the positioning and being in the right place and not overreacting or overplaying situations, I think that is the base for being more - I don't know - reactive in the goal and being more comfortable with the shots." 

Tokarski is expected to start for the Sabres against the Penguins on Wednesday with Houser as his backup. Granato has not set a target date for Ullmark to return to the lineup, though the goaltender did practice with the team on Tuesday.

Whatever awaits him, Luukkonen said he hopes to make the most of the time he has while sharing the ice with Ullmark and assistant coach Mike Bales. 

"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can here," he said. 

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