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2024 Player Report Card: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

Apr 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1) looks on in the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Goaltender UPL proved his worth this past season and may look to extend his time in Buffalo

Total Season Stats: 27-22-4

Age: 25

Contract Status: RFA starting July 1st

Having only played 33 games in his previous season with the Buffalo Sabres, this past season was a vast improvement for Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen as he was solid in most of his 54 appearances. What began as a season that was predicted to favor fellow goalie Devon Levi, turned into a solid showing of Luukkonen’s long-awaited talent and the consistency that he had been searching for over the last few years. Looking at a snapshot of his play from December to mid-March, UPL was 17-9-1 with a .930 save percentage and a 1.92 goals against average. This improvement – coupled with some patience for his development among the franchise and fans – did not go unnoticed by the man behind the “Buffalo Rage” mask. Following a game back in March, he stated “I appreciate the time I’ve been given from the coaching staff here and the whole organization to kind of take my time and find my footing in the net. Last year [I was] trying to figure out what it is that I need to do to play well.”

Well, it seems he figured something out as most of the kinks from previous years were ironed out in both the offseason and regular season. Luukkonen made several noticeable adjustments to his style of play including balance, chest placement, and reaction time, to name a few.

At the end of the 2023-2024 regular season, UPL’s final record read 27-22-4 with a .910 save percentage and an average of 2.57 goals against. He also finished fifth in the league in shutouts with five. If the team in front of him was better, his numbers would also be better as his stats are obviously not totally indicative of how well he played.

After another long, disappointing season of offensive failures (among a long list of problems), fans should have at least fostered a glimmer of hope in the goaltending department after watching Luukkonen shine this year. With Lindy Ruff returning as head coach and expressing interest in keeping him as the starter for next season, Buffalo should make moves to keep UPL for the long run as he will become a restricted free agent in July. The future looks bright for Levi, too, who dazzled with the Rochester Americans in the latter part of the season (including playoffs), but more on that later.

Season Grade: A-