BUFFALO – Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is likely years away from cracking the Sabres.
The goalie prospect is just beginning his North American junior career with the Sudbury Wolves. After that, Luukkonen will probably need years of apprenticeship in the minors.
But Sabres got a glimpse of Luukkonen, a youngster many have tabbed as their goalie of the future, in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Prospects Challenge rookie tournament.
The outing inside a packed HarborCenter marked the first time Luukkonen, 19, represented the Sabres in any sort of game action.
The 6-foot-5, 209-pound Finn looked sharp in a few ways, making 28 saves, many with his bright orange pads.
“He’s confident, you can tell that,” coach Chris Taylor said. “He looked big. He looked in control of what he was doing. He didn’t look sloppy.”
Luukkonen, a second-round pick in 2017, 54th overall, said he only felt a little nervousness before the contest.
“Mostly excited before the game,” he said. “It was a big thing for me.”
Luukkonen could’ve spent this season in Finland, where he had played his entire career. Instead, he joined the Wolves, who drafted him third overall in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
Why leave the comfort of home?
“It’s good for me to learn that faster hockey in North America,” Luukkonen said. “We just thought it’s in (my) best interest. There’s more games for me, more playing time.”
With the Ontario Hockey League’s Wolves, Luukkonen could play more than 50 games if he stays healthy.
Center Vasily Glotov scored the Sabres’ only goal. They close the tournament Monday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins.