BUFFALO – For almost a week, Sabres goalie Devon Levi anxiously waited for his immigration paperwork to be finalized.
Levi, 21, could be around the team, he just couldn’t practice. For the rookie, who’s known as a rink rat, that wasn’t easy.
“How I was thinking about it is you can’t keep the beast tamed in the cage for too long before getting out and being hungry,” Levi said after participating in Friday morning’s optional pregame skate at KeyBank Center, his first session with the team. “So I’m just super hungry to get out there and stop pucks.”
Levi, who signed his entry-level contract last Friday, has finally received clearance. While pregame skates are shorter and less intense than practices, Friday’s session was a much-needed start.
“Finally,” a smiling Levi said after staying out late for extra on-ice work. “Just happy to be out there with them, facing the shots, developing with them and getting better. I feel like I’m a part of it now, so I feel good.”
Sporting some new and old equipment – he wore blue and red Rochester Americans pants – Levi was one of three goalies on the ice Friday morning. Much of his Northeastern gear has been adorned with stickers to match the Sabres’ colors, including his mask.
Rookie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who started Friday’s 5-4 win over the New Jersey Devils, and Eric Comrie, his backup, also skated. Veteran Craig Anderson had the morning off.
Levi likely won’t have a full team practice until Tuesday. The Sabres play a road game Saturday afternoon against the New York Islanders and return home Monday to face the Montreal Canadiens. On Sunday, they have a scheduled day off.
The Sabres plan to play Levi, although they likely want to give him a few practices to get acclimated.
“It will take him a little bit, in fairness to him, a little bit to get acclimated to some skates,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I would love to say practices, but he’ll have skates first, morning skates and some optional skates and we’ll see how he feels from that. So a lot of dialogue going back and forth between us and him the next couple days.”
Levi said he’s “just taking it day by day.”
“I’m really excited for that time, but it’s a partnership,” he said.
Levi, who has been skating on his own, hasn’t played a game since Northeastern’s season ended March 11.
“It’s only a matter of time until you get back on the ice and start feeling good,” he said. “It’s been two weeks but I’ve been staying mentally sharp, just watching some film. Visualizing and meditating and stuff like that to try and stay in it mentally so I’m ready to go.”
Levi has been watching games closely from the press box, writing down notes about the Sabres’ system and studying the opponent’s goalie.
“I’m just looking at the chances we give up, what to be ready for, kind of like our structure and kind of looking at how the goalie fits into it, what the goalie’s expected to do and handle,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Levi grabbed a seat in the stands and examined Anderson, a 20-year veteran, during three-on-three drills.
“He’s a really smart guy,” he said. “Kind of sitting behind him gives me an opportunity to see the game from his point of view, what he sees, what reads he’s making. Just learning little things off of him.”
Rochester goalie Malcolm Subban played his 32nd game Friday, his highest total since 2016-17 with the Providence Bruins.
Subban, 29, made 25 total appearances over the previous two seasons. Last year, he played just nine games, including four contests for the Sabres before undergoing season-ending wrist surgery.
He has never played more than 35 games during his eight-year pro career.
“It’s funny because I actually looked back a couple of times and reflected on this year just being like, ‘Man, I haven’t felt this way in a long time, playing a lot of games,’” Subban said last week. “It’s a different type of a mindset, I feel like, a mentality. So it’s been great to feel it.”
The Sabres made one lineup change against the Devils, inserting defenseman Jacob Bryson for Riley Stillman, who was scratched for the first time since Buffalo acquired him.
They also scratched wingers Jordan Greenway (upper body) and Vinnie Hinostroza (personal reasons).