Devon Levi started the first four games this season. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres believe goalie Devon Levi will embrace assignment to Rochester, develop with Amerks

BUFFALO – As the Sabres’ decision-makers examined the upcoming schedule, they saw saw limited opportunities here for rookie goalie Devon Levi.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has emerged as the Sabres’ best goalie, and they want to award him more starts. If they kept three netminders, Levi would’ve played perhaps once a week. Following tonight’s road game against the St. Louis Blues, the Sabres play 15 times in December, meaning practice time will be limited.

So on Tuesday, the Sabres sent Levi, who started the first four games this season, to Rochester, where he can play and practice regularly with the Americans.

“This is just a part of my journey,” Levi said on a Zoom call Wednesday following his first practice in Rochester. “… It’s not a negative. You can’t have the ups without the downs. And honestly, I don’t take this as a down; I take this as an opportunity to … bring my game up to another level.

“So those hard times and those setbacks and those obstacles are placed in front of you for a reason. I think that the Buffalo Sabres are looking out for my best interests and I am as well.”

It was in the Sabres’ best interest to find Levi more work. He had played just five of the last 17 games and nine overall. Having three goalies on the ice for practices meant he often shared a net with Luukkonen or Eric Comrie.

“This is an opportunity for him to get in a rhythm, get sharpened up even through some more structured practice reps,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said prior to Wednesday’s practice in KeyBank Center. “And that’s something that we have the luxury and the ability to do right now and I think it’s the right decision at this time.”

The Amerks play road games Friday and Saturday against the Belleville Senators. The Sabres haven’t put a length on Levi’s assignment.

Levi, 21, was trying to become the first goalie to bypass the minors and jump straight to the NHL from college. After leaving Northeastern in March, he immediately grabbed the net as the Sabres battled for a playoff spot, playing seven of the final nine games.

This season, Levi suffered a lower-body injury in his fourth start on Oct. 19 and did not return until Nov. 4. Overall, he has compiled a 3-4-1 record with a 3.73 goals-against average and an .876 save percentage.

In his last three outings, he has registered a 0-1-1 mark with a 5.16 goals-against average and an .824 save percentage.

On Tuesday, Adams, coach Don Granato and assistant coach Mike Bales, who’s in charge of the goalies, sat down with Levi and explained why the Sabres sent him to the minors.

“We told him that we believe in him and this is just part of the process,” Adams said. “… He understood. He was good, he was positive, he asked questions, which is what you want.”

Adams said Bales talked to Levi “about being present” and what an opportunity to play in the AHL can do for his development.

“It’s a gift because you can kind of flip your mindset a little bit and just focus that day on where you are and getting better,” Adams said.

Adams said in the NHL, goalies no longer think about their development. They’re in a win-now mode. In the AHL, Levi can reset and get back to his personal development.

In the big picture, Levi acknowledged, joining the Amerks is “a step down.”

“But I think the conversation we had was not looking at intentionally trying to be a step down, it was more trying to use a resource to develop,” he said. “I think that being three goalies, I don’t think that we were getting the most out of everyone when we were up there.

“So I think that being on my rookie contract, I don’t have to clear waivers, I’m able to play down here. And it just made sense. … It’s just a good fit for everyone right now.”

Granato, who now has increased roster flexibility with just two goalies, believes Levi will embrace the assignment.

“Nobody likes to go down,” he said. “You like it here. You built camaraderie. You’re in a team, you’re in a rhythm, and that rhythm changes, so it takes a little bit of time to digest. But when you know a plan and it fits into a vision long-term, for him, it fits into his vision long-term to become better, this is a resource that can help him do that. I think he’s good with it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *