Buffalo Sabres Top 25 Under 25: #23 - Nathan Lieuwen
Lieuwen donned the Sabres jersey in a regular season game for the first time this season in his second year of professional hockey. How does he compare to the other goaltenders in the system?
Weight: 192 lbs.
2013-14 team: Rochester/Buffalo
Acquired: Taken in the sixth round (167th) in the 2011 draft
Last year's ranking: Not ranked
For many years the goaltending position was an afterthought, as everyone knew Ryan Miller would be carrying as big of a load as he could. Those days are over, and the Sabres have some questions going forward in regards to who the future Sabres netminder is. Thanks to injuries to both Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth this season Lieuwen got his first opportunity to show his skills in the NHL, only to be knocked out by an injury himself.
Lieuwen split time in Rochester with Hackett, who has usually been thought of as the more realistic NHL prospect. Many were surprised that when the Sabres suffered a goaltending injury it was Lieuwen who was first called up and not Hackett.
During his call-up Lieuwen played rather well. Although he finished with a 1-4-0 record he posted a better GAA (2.98) than Hackett and a .906 save percentage. It was a much smaller sample size, but Lieuwen's GAA was actually better in Buffalo than it had been in Rochester.
Lieuwen's save percentage and GAA average in Rochester were both better than Hackett's as well. His 2.34 GAA and .922 save percentage were bested only by Makarov, who played 20 games less.
Lieuwen has injury concerns and is likely a concussion away from being forced to retire. He's already suffered from two concussions in juniors and a third which kept him out of the final week of this season, which is certainly something to keep in mind when contemplating his long-term longevity.
Before joining the Americans in 2013 Lieuwen had a successful junior career with the Kootenay Ice. In 2011 he was named the WHL playoffs MVP after leading the Ice to the league title only to fall in the Memorial Cup semifinals to Mississauga.
He has exceptional size for the position, standing at 6'5", and uses that to his advantage. His long reach allows him to move from one side of the net to the other very quickly, as seen in the view above.
With Hackett out for the first few months of the season, Lieuwen will be splitting time in Rochester with Andrey Makarov. The Sabres goaltending pipeline is crowded. Makarov had an excellent end to the season with Rochester and Linus Ullmark is a season away from coming over from Europe.
Since Enroth and Neuvirth are both free agents at the end of the year it is a big opportunity for the young goalies to prove their worth. There could be a backup job in the 2015-16 season at stake, and with only so many spots poor play could lead to the Sabres moving on from the player entirely.
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