Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen met with the Sabres at the NHL Scouting Combine. ©2017, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen sensed interest from Sabres

CHICAGO – When Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen surveys Buffalo’s goaltending depth chart, the 18-year-old Finn sees an opportunity. With Cal Petersen passing on the Sabres, the team wants another strong netminding prospect to fill the void.

So in the second round Saturday, 54th overall, the Sabres selected Luukkonen at the NHL Draft.

“Of course, it’s a great situation to have when you know there’s space for you to fit in,” Luukkonen said inside the United Center. “You know there’s something to work for.”

General manager Jason Botterill said Friday the Sabres would likely draft a goalie. The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Luukkonen is NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked European goalie.

“The first thing that jumps out at you is his size,” Botterill said. “I think it’s something that we talked about in the meetings. It’s always the lasting impression.”

Luukkonen had a feeling the Sabres would draft him after he met with them at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo.

“We had a great meeting at the combine,” he said. “They said they would be interested in drafting me.”

Like Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt, the eighth overall pick Friday, Luukkonen clearly feels comfortable in Buffalo. He talked about how much he liked the water around the city during his visit and how great it would be to represent Finland at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo later this year.

“Just a beautiful city and great people,” he said.

Luukkonen has some great numbers. He had a 1.78 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage last season in 35 games with the HPK under-20 team in Jr. A SM-liiga. He posted a 2.01 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in nine playoff contests as HPK captured the championship.

“There was more ups and downs than the season before that,” he said. “But I think I had a pretty good season.”

Luukkonen said he became a goalie “when I started walking.” His older brother and cousin also played goal.

“It’s maybe in the family a little bit,” he said. “But I also loved to watch the goalie gear, the pads, the gloves, it was just great for me.”

Luukkonen, who showcases a calm demeanor the Sabres like, said he eventually developed into a butterfly goalie who also stands up.

“It’s a little bit of a mix,” said Luukkonen, who watched former Sabres goalie Ryan Miller growing up.

Luukkonen plans to spend at least one more season in Finland, where one Sabre, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, is wildly popular. Ristolainen scored the overtime goal for Finland in the 2014 World Junior Championship, clinching gold.

“(All of) Finland went crazy, so I wasn’t the only one,” Luukkonen said.

Luukkonen said he can’t wait to meet Ristolainen.

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Now that the draft has ended, Botterill plans to hire Randy Sexton as the Sabres’ assistant GM and GM of the Rochester Americans, their AHL affiliate, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

Botterill knows the 57-year-old Sexton from Pittsburgh, where he has been the Penguins’ director of amateur scouting since 2010.

Sexton served as GM of the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers earlier in his career. He was also Rochester’s GM with Florida.

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The New York Rangers are close to hiring former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff as an assistant coach, according to the New York Post.

Ruff was fired in April after four seasons with the Dallas Stars. He was last an assistant with the Florida Panthers in 1996-97, the season before he began his 16-year run in Buffalo.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wants more experience on the bench, so Jeff Beukeboom will be moved to a scouting role, according to the paper.

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The Sabres announced Saturday the team’s annual development camp development camp will be held July 8 to 11 at HarborCenter. Sessions are free and open to the public.

The schedule:

July 8: 2 to 3:30 p.m.; 4 to 5:30 p.m.

July 9: 10 to 11:15 a.m.; 2 to 3:15 p.m.

July 10: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m.; 1:45 to 3:00 p.m.

July 11: French Connection Three-on-Three Tournament: 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Notes: Botterill said some teams asked him to move down in the draft. “We felt comfortable with players we wanted to select in those areas,” he said. … Eden’s Dylan Seitz, a draft-eligible forward with Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers, wasn’t selected. … The Nashville Predators drafted Victor’s David Farrance, a defenseman set to attend Boston University, 92nd overall. … Luukkonen was Buffalo’s only pick at the draft Saturday.

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