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Sabres begin to restock goaltending cupboard with pick of Luukkonen

2nd-round pick was top-rated European goalie

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

CHICAGO - Jason Botterill said the Sabres would look to replenish their goalie depth in the Draft if the right opportunity presented itself, but added that they weren't going to force the issue. 

Enter Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, whom the Sabres liked enough to make him the second goalie selected when they took him with the No. 54 pick, their second of Round 2, on Saturday morning. Luukkonen was the top-ranked European goalie by NHL Central Scouting Services.

Luukkonen met Buffalo at the NHL Scouting Combine and said the meeting went well enough that he thought of the Sabres as a potential destination in the second round. 

"Of course I'm really excited," he said. "It's great to be a part of this great organization."

The choice of Luukkonen comes one day after Botterill announced that goalie prospect Cal Petersen would be entering free agency and was likely to move on from the Sabres. Luukkonen will likely return to HPK in Finland for at least one more season, but sees an opportunity on the depth chart in the future.

"Of course it's a great situation to have when you know there's space for you to fit in," he said. "You know there's something to work for … I think it's a great situation for me."

Luukkonen describes himself as calm and level-headed, a trait he says he picked up from his parents. He saw his older brother and cousin playing goalie at a young age and fell in love with the position, all the way down to the pads and glove. He played goalie in street hockey for as long as he can remember, and was between the pipes on the ice by age 5 or 6. 

He grew up watching Ryan Miller, although Pekka Rinne - another Finnish goalie - is his idol. He also has an affection, as most young Finns do, for Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. He fondly remembers Ristolainen's golden goal at the World Junior Championship in 2014.

"The whole Finland went crazy, I wasn't the only one who went crazy there," he said. "It tells about him that he has the confidence to make those plays, so it's great."

If he plays his cards right, Ristolainen may one day be playing in front of him.

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