The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. six writers and 718 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of July 1, 2018 in the Buffalo Sabres organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
Opinions on Linus Ullmark’s viability as a long-term solution in net for the Buffalo Sabres are all over the map. With an impressive .922 save-percentage last season, the 25-year-old netminder earned himself a spot in the AHL All-Star Game and helped lead the Rochester Amerks to the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013-14. During a brief call-up with the Sabres toward the end of the year, he was sensational, earning a .935 save-percentage in five appearances.
Here is where things get a little bit concerning. During his call-up, Ullmark was diagnosed with a concussion after taking a shot to the helmet in practice, leaving him sidelined for the remainder of the regular season. Just before the Amerks playoff campaign had commenced, he was sent back down to the AHL after being medically cleared to return to action.
Unfortunately, Rochester was swept from the first round of the playoffs and Ullmark’s performance(s) was seen as one of the main reasons for his team’s demise. In those three games, he was a shadow of the goaltender fans had been treated to before his concussion, posting a horrendous .800 save-percentage while allowing 16 goals-against.
Very emotional Linus Ullmark as the #Amerks season comes to an end. Ullmark was named Rochester MVP by his teammates, but allowed 16 goals in three playoff games #Sabres @WKBW pic.twitter.com/8Hb0c43dil— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) April 26, 2018
The debate as to whether or not his recent head injury had played a significant role is a conversation for another time but regardless, one bad playoff series is not enough to erase three consecutive years of marked improvement at the AHL level. While his ability to become a franchise netminder remains to be seen, he is still a promising young talent who has acquitted himself well during brief stints in Buffalo over the past three years.
Jason Botterill wisely acquired veteran goaltender Carter Hutton as a free-agent on July 1 so not to hand the starting job to Ullmark outright. The 32-year-old will likely start a majority of the games in 2018-19 while serving as a mentor. If Ullmark can regain his form from a year ago and transition seamlessly to big league action, then perhaps he can take the reigns in 2019-20.
At the end of the day, he still has a lot to prove, but his poor showing at the tail end of last season shouldn’t sour fans on his potential. It will be interesting to see if he can rise to the challenge with the Sabres next year.