Devon Levi recently returned to Buffalo after a 16-game stint in Rochester. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

How Sabres’ Devon Levi seized chance in Rochester, became better goalie

BUFFALO – Instead of chasing the highest levels growing up, Sabres goalie Devon Levi chose to play where he would enjoy the best opportunity to develop his craft.

For example: in 2019-20, his draft season, he tended goal in the Central Canada Hockey League, a circuit that produces some NHL talent but is overshadowed by the major junior Canadian Hockey League.

“It’s a good league, but it wasn’t up there on the radar,” Levi said of the CCHL following Thursday’s practice. “It’s not the best players in the world, but I felt like I was really able to hone in my development there.”

Levi played 37 games for the Carleton Canadians that season, winning a slew of honors, including league MVP and best goaltender.

He earned enough notice to be drafted in 2020. The next season, he joined Northeastern and backstopped Team Canada to a silver medal at the World Junior Championship.

As a pro, Levi, who’s expected to start tonight’s game against the New Jersey Devils at KeyBank Center, hasn’t lost the mentality he possessed as a teenager. He viewed his recent 16-game run with the Rochester Americans as an opportunity to play and get better.

It hardly mattered he had to go to the minors.

“Regardless of what level you’re playing, being able to get into a game, as long as you’re playing and getting better, there’s no need to chase the highest level,” the rookie said.

A chance to focus on his development out of the spotlight helped Levi. He said he tried to treat Rochester “as a resource to improve every day.”

In taking over as the Amerks’ starter, he saw different game situations and developed a rhythm he wouldn’t have had in Buffalo if he had stayed to back up Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

“It was … great for my game on the ice, great for the mental,” Levi said of the AHL. “I feel like the more you play, the easier it is to shut off the mind.”

Levi, 22, established himself as perhaps the AHL’s best goaltending prospect. Over his three stints in Rochester this season, he has compiled an 11-5-3 record with a 2.52 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 19 games.

If he had enough minutes to qualify among the league leaders, his save percentage would rank first. He won five of his last six starts prior to his recall March 16.

“I really enjoyed it,” Levi said of the AHL. “Just to be able to play consistently was also unbelievable. I can’t use better words to describe my experience in Roch. Every piece of the puzzle was perfect, from the players, coaching staff, culture. It was just a great experience.”

The Sabres could send Levi, who began the season as their No. 1 goalie, back to Rochester when they’re officially eliminated from the postseason. As of Thursday afternoon, they had a 0.5 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to

Whatever faint hopes they had diminished when they fell behind 5-0 in the first period of Wednesday’s embarrassing 6-2 home loss to the Ottawa Senators.

Luukkonen’s emergence as one of the NHL’s elite goalies over the last three months has kept the Sabres alive. But the Finn endured a brutal night Wednesday, allowing four goals on the nine shots he faced in the opening 8:49 before coach Don Granato mercifully yanked him.

“It is frustrating,” Luukkonen said. “I’ve been talking about how much it means to me … the confidence that has been given to me kind of from the team and the players. Last night wasn’t good enough. I don’t think it was good enough for me, my part, or neither it was good enough from the team part.

“But in the end, I can only affect my own stuff. That’s how I face it.”

He added: “I’m not happy with the first goal especially, that’s on me. That kind of sets the tone there.”

Levi replaced him and looked sharp, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced.

With a back-to-back set – the Sabres also host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday – Levi was expected to play one of the nights before Luukkonen struggled. On March 19, Levi made 31 saves in a 3-2 road loss to the Vancouver Canucks, his first NHL start since Jan. 24.

On Thursday, Levi practiced in the net usually reserved for the next game’s starter.

Luukkonen, who was in net for every goal in last Thursday’s 8-3 road loss to the Edmonton Oilers, will likely start Saturday.

“These are the ups and downs,” Granato said of what Luukkonen has recently experienced. “This is hopefully a short down for him. He’s been outstanding, obviously, for the last couple of months. A bit of a hiccup here for him. He needs to find a reset as quick as he can and understand that’s part of part of his future.”

Notes: Granato said Sabres winger Jordan Greenway left Thursday’s practice early after aggravating an injury and will be evaluated this morning. He believes Greenway will play against New Jersey. … Granato said center Tyson Jost’s ready to play after missing the last two games with an undisclosed injury. … The NHL on Thursday fined defenseman Bowen Byram $5,000, the maximum amount allowed, for interfering with Ottawa winger Angus Crookshank on Wednesday.

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