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Buffalo Sabres Top 25 Under 25: #22 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

With two strong goalie prospects staying in college and a stopgap goalie situation in Buffalo, Luukkonen has an opportunity to ascend.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Minnesota Wild David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of staff writers and over 600 readers that ranked Buffalo Sabres players under the age of 25 as of August 1, 2022. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player.

Next in our top 25 is goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. “UPL” for short, the young goaltender briefly straddled the NHL and AHL this past season, and will likely do the same this year. The Buffalo Sabres need Luukkonen to continue trending upward, or else their already-tenuous goaltending situation gets muddier.

Luukkonen played nine games for the Sabres before an injury forced him to the sidelines. His 2-5-2 record over those nine games doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of his play, making the lower body injury a speed bump in his trajectory.

Upon getting healthy, he was assigned to Rochester and did not play with the Sabres for the rest of the season.

Through his brief stint with the Sabres this past season, Luukkonen showed flashes of the talent that’s made him a highly touted prospect throughout his tenure in the lower leagues.

While there were moments where he wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues, there’s a lot to like in his capability for big saves.

In the win over the Winnipeg Jets, Luukkonen saved 34 of 36 shots, with a save percentage of 0.944 — an excellent showing in a game that was otherwise the Rasmus Dahlin show.

Luukkonen’s prospects are hampered by his horrific injury luck. Upon rehabbing from the injury that sidelined from the Sabres, Luukkonen played for the Americans, until injury again forced him out of commission — this time, a hamstring injury. Add that to his two previous ankle injuries and double-hip surgery; it’s a lot for a 23 year-old.

This is a critical season for Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. The goaltending situation at the top of the Sabres organization is improving, but ripe for the taking. Craig Anderson is phasing out of the game somewhat, and new goalie Eric Comrie is in Buffalo looking to prove himself in a starting role. Since the tandem in Buffalo is set — barring catastrophe — it’s likely that Luukkonen will start most games in Rochester, but an enhanced role with the Sabres is in the cards.

Behind him, Luukkonen has two standout young goalies in Devon Levi and Erik Portillo knocking on the door. Both Levi and Portillo have returned to their respective universities, and Portillo isn’t a surefire hit to sign with Buffalo at all. That said, Luukkonen has players in line behind him that could challenge him for starts sooner rather than later. This year, he shines alone as the most serious prospect for a long-term future in Buffalo; he has to make use of it.

If he stays healthy and keeps making strides, an enhanced role with the Sabres is surely his.