Artyom Levshunov goes through fitness testing Saturday at the NHL Scouting Combine in LECOM Harborcenter. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

NHL Draft: Rochester Amerks coach Michael Leone made impact on prospect Artyom Levshunov

BUFFALO – Two years ago, Artyom Levshunov arrived in the United States speaking little English. Today, the defenseman can comfortably hold court in front of a throng of reporters and cameras, joking and showcasing his personality.

At the NHL Scouting Combine, the affable Levshunov, 18, smoothly fielded questions, explaining his hockey journey from Belarus to the NHL Draft, where he could be selected as high as second overall June 28.

New Rochester Americans coach Mike Leone played a pivotal role in Levshunov’s development as a person and player, helping the youngster acclimate to a new culture and brand of hockey when he joined the Green Bay Gamblers in 2022.

“He told me, ‘Just be yourself and play your game,’” Levshunov said of Leone, whom the Buffalo Sabres hired Thursday to coach their AHL affiliate.

Those simple words gave Levshunov comfort.

“He helped me a lot, actually, when I came (the) first time to America, yeah,” the prospect said Saturday following fitness testing in LECOM Harborcenter. “I mean, it was everything new to me. I came to a new country and I didn’t speak a lot of English, I didn’t speak very much. But still I think he helped me on the ice. He helped me outside the ice, and we’re still in touch.”

Leone coached and served as general manager of Green Bay, a junior team in the United States Hockey League, for two seasons. Levshunov spent 2022-23 with the Gamblers before joining Michigan State for his freshman season.

Levshunov believes Leone earned his new opportunity.

“I think he deserved it,” he said. “He’s such a good human, good person and coach as well.”

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