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Buffalo Sabres Top 25 Under 25: T-#13 Erik Portillo

The Michigan star emerges as a shot of roster depth (if he signs).

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

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.

Goaltender Erik Portillo is tied for 13th in our Top 25 Under 25, ascending in the rankings from last year. The Michigan goalie became a star after the departure of Strauss Mann, taking on the starting role with great success. Despite coaching turmoil at Michigan and a strong showing at development camp, Portillo has again opted to return to the Wolverines squad for another season.

Described by McKeen’s Hockey in 2019 as “an extremely calm netminder,” Portillo relies on both his size and poise in equal measure as a goaltender.

His performance at Michigan earned him a nod as a 2022 Mike Richter award semifinalist for best NCAA goalie — an award fellow Sabres prospect Devon Levi won.

Portillo moves gracefully in the crease despite his size; you’d think a 6-6 goaltender would struggle to move as well as he does. He shows brilliant awareness even when there’s traffic in front of the net, and excels at following the play.

The sequence of saves he made against Penn State also showcase his athleticism and got the hockey world’s eyes on him. On what could have been a disastrous rebound, he uses his combination of size and flexibility to make the stick-side save. I mean, come on, it got him on SportsCenter:

It’s hard not to wonder what the future holds for Erik Portillo in the Sabres organization. Portillo becomes a free agent at the end of next year if he doesn’t sign with the Sabres.

Off the ice, he’s been committed to his education and ventures with the Ross School of Business at Michigan, a business school that, on top of his connections in the athletic department, open a variety of doors. This isn’t said to doubt Portillo’s commitment to hockey, but notable context as to why he hasn’t yet signed. The non-hockey professional development matters to him; he’s not snubbing the Sabres outright, at least not now.

From the hockey perspective, Portillo can also continue developing and seeing the ice at Michigan — the starting role is still his. Though Devon Levi will also remain in college, the Sabres have Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen hopefully taking on a larger role in both Rochester and Buffalo. Portillo can continue his education and still see ice time. It’s probably the right call to stay.

The Sabres will, however, need to dedicate themselves to convincing Portillo to sign at the end of the season, or leverage him in a trade. Otherwise, they risk losing a valuable prospect for nothing.

I cover (and am a fan of) Michigan sports, so I’m admittedly biased toward seeing Kevyn Adams work to sign him. He offers cool-headed, competent goaltending that doesn’t need much more time to develop. The good news is Portillo attended Sabres development camp and wowed those in attendance, and perhaps his former Michigan teammate and friend Owen Power can further convince him to sign with the squad next year.