Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was all smiles this morning. ©2017, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen excited for opportunity with 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 this morning, 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. Luukkonen is NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked European goalie.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound 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 said he eventually developed into a goalie with a butterfly style who likes to stand 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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