BUFFALO – Last week, shortly after Northeastern’s season ended, goalie Devon Levi and his parents and agents went on a Zoom call to talk to Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams, coach Don Granato and other members of the organization.
Levi, 21, developed a strong feel for the Sabres when he visited for development camp last summer. He liked what he experienced so much he said he did not want to leave town. He made new friends, caught up with old ones and, for the first time, participated in the program Adams has been building.
Still, Levi, perhaps college hockey’s top goalie the last two years, said he wasn’t sure if he would leave school – “I’m the type of guy that just goes one day at a time,” he said – and turn pro following his junior season.
The Sabres, however, remained in the back of the prospect’s mind as he enjoyed another dynamic season for the Huskies. He knew a life-changing decision was on the horizon.
“When that day came, I had the information I needed to make to make the right one,” an excited Levi said Monday in KeyBank Center.
After learning more about the organization on the call, he said signing his entry-level contract was a no-brainer.
“I share a lot of the same morals and visions that he does with his group,” said Levi, who on Friday inked his three-year deal. “He’s trying to get a lot of good people, not only good hockey players, but just quality human beings. And he’s doing it the right way. So it was a decision that I took my time to make sure it was the right one, but when I made up my mind, it was an easy decision.
“I just felt in my heart that I wanted to be a Sabre. I’m so happy to be here.”
Sporting a No. 27 Sabres hoodie and other team gear, Levi couldn’t stop smiling as he stood at a podium and talked to the media.
“It’s been a long ride, it’s been a great ride,” he said. “I never thought I’d be here. When I was a kid, it was a dream and to be able to live it out, I’m just super grateful, super honored to be here. It’s a dream come true.”
For the time being, that dream is partially on hold as his immigration paperwork is finalized. Levi, who’s Canadian, did not practice Monday. Instead, he skated on his own.
Granato said Levi’s status is “a day-to-day deal.”
The Sabres, who have 13 games left this season, want to play Levi.
“I feel like I’m ready to go,” he said. “But, yeah, obviously, I think a few practices would be good.”
In the meantime, veteran goalie Craig Anderson, 41, will likely start tonight’s home game against the Nashville Predators. Rookie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who has emerged as the No. 1 netminder, could play later this week. The Sabres also have goalie Eric Comrie, who’s working his way back from a lower-body injury.
Levi has been receiving new equipment that must be measured and certified by the NHL. Following Monday’s practice, some of it, including a new Sabres mask, was laid out on a table in the middle of the dressing room.
Granato said Levi doesn’t have all of his new gear yet.
“He hasn’t faced NHL shooters yet,” he said. “Getting used to that gear, getting that gear broken in and facing enough shooters and getting that timing and rhythm, that is something that we will monitor and see where it leads.”
The Sabres haven’t enjoyed many leads this month. They’ve lost nine of their last 11 games and are in danger of falling out of the playoff chase. Their defense has recently morphed into the NHL’s worst, allowing a league-high 52 goals during that wretched stretch.
Granato, however, said he’s not worried about putting Levi in a game with the Sabres struggling so badly defensively.
While he can’t practice with his new teammates, Levi has been making the most of his time. He sat on the bench with injured defenseman Mattias Samuelsson during Monday’s session and examined the action before moving to the stands.
“He’s … watching and studying the goaltenders and shooters and you could see how dialed in he was and he is,” Granato said. “That’s one of his attributes. … He’s very engaged in taking initiative to develop himself.”
Levi has also been picking the brain of Anderson since he arrived Sunday. Anderson, who played his first NHL game when Levi was 11 months old, said the youngster just needs to be himself.
“Take in (everything), observe and pick your spots on where to engage with people,” he said. “… We don’t bite here. We’re here to help him, we’re here to help him be a part of this. If he’s got questions, we’ve all got answers. We’ve all been there. There’s nothing I’ve gone through that he’s not going to go through.”
Levi understands he has a special opportunity to buoy his development over the final four weeks this season.
“I feel like in this month or so that I’m here I can get a year’s worth of development out of,” said Levi, who’s a top-10 finalist again this season for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s highest individual honor. “So I’m just really excited facing these shots being with NHL players, Mike Bales, NHL goaltending coach. Just being around the guys, learning how to be a pro more than I already know how to do, it’s just all great for maturing and my development. So I’m just super glad to be here.”