Buffalo Sabres Top 20 Under 24 Prospect Rankings, #3: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
The 21-year-old netminder will look to show progress at the AHL level in 2021
The Top 20 Under 24 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of five staff writers and over 300 readers that ranked prospects under the age of 24 and have played less than 125 NHL games.
Despite being voted into the top-three in this poll, fans of the Buffalo Sabres were not unanimously satisfied with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s performance in 2019-20. Coming off an outstanding 2018-19 campaign in the OHL (where he won the league’s Goaltender of the Year Award), his transition to the professional ranks wasn’t seamless.
As a 20-year-old in the ECHL, Luukkonen posted a modest .912 save-percentage in 23 contests with the Cincinnati Cyclones. Toward the end of the season, he got a chance to showcase his development, starting 10 games in between the pipes for the Rochester Amerks.
Unfortunately, his first taste of AHL action went about as poorly as you could expect. With a record of 3-4-4, he managed to stop only 87.4-percent of the shots he faced. For a player who is penciled-in as the de facto starter for the Amerks this coming season, fans were hoping for a better first impression.
The good news here is that Luukkonen is still very young, even for an AHL netminder. As hockey fans are by this point painfully aware, goaltenders simply have longer development trajectories compared to skaters. It’s also encouraging that is currently playing well for TPS in Liiga.
Comparatively, Liiga is probably a stronger league than the ECHL. So, the fact that the Espoo native currently holds a .916 save-percentage (good for fourth in the league at the moment), is a good sign. The fact that he’s performing that way on a rather mediocre TPS squad is also a plus.
In the coming weeks, fans can expect Luukkonen to join the Sabres for training camp. His fellow countryman, Arttu Ruotsalainen has already returned to Western New York, and the remaining Buffalo assets currently on loan in Europe won’t be far behind. Hopefully Luukkonen can seize the starting job from incumbent Jonas Johansson in Rochester, and truly show that he’s ready to take the next step.