Scott Ratzlaff skates during development camp. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres goalie prospect Scott Ratzlaff draws comparisons to Devon Levi

BUFFALO – Considering he’s a 6-foot Sabres goalie prospect who has represented Team Canada, it was inevitable Scott Ratzlaff would draw comparisons to Devon Levi.

But the similarities go beyond their size, position and team. Ratzlaff, like Levi, who ended last season as the Sabres’ starting goalie, has a cerebral approach to the game, said Jerry Forton, Buffalo’s director of amateur scouting.

Ratzlaff, a fifth-round pick last Thursday, 141st overall, likes to study his craft.

He has watched 5-foot-11 Nashville Predators star Juuse Saros closely, and he considers him an advocate for smaller goalies.

“The way he fills space, uses his frame to present himself big to the shooter, and just his edge work is something anyone can take a page out of,” Ratzlaff said at the NHL Draft in Nashville. “It’s just awesome to watch him.”

Ratzlaff, 18, also loves the mental attitude Minnesota Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a future Hall of Famer, possesses.

“You can always see him having a smile on his face, enjoying the game for what it is, not taking it too seriously, things like that,” he said following Wednesday’s session of development camp in LECOM Harborcenter. “So just learning to see the game for what it is and as a sport. When you’re doing something like this, you got to have fun with it. You don’t want it to become a job.”

Ratzlaff considers himself a stand-up netminder whose lateral movement is perhaps his greatest strength. His analytical view has served him well.

He just enjoyed a terrific junior season, compiling a 25-8-1 record with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in 34 games as the Seattle Thunderbirds captured the Western Hockey League championship.

Ratzlaff said hearing comparisons to Levi, who grabbed the Sabres’ No. 1 job just weeks after leaving college in March, is “just a big honor.”

Levi, 21, is another goalie Ratzlaff has studied.

“He’s kind of mastered that class of trying to take as much space up as possible being that size,” he said of Levi. “So he’s definitely another guy that I like to look at, see how he plays the game both mentally and working on angles and things like that. So he’s definitely a mentor.”

Ratzlaff looks up to another goalie who’s not much older than him: Thomas Milic, his partner in Seattle. Despite the short age gap, Ratzlaff considers Milic, 20, a role model.

During their two seasons together, they’ve gotten the most out of each other by constantly competing. In 2022-23, Milic was named the WHL’s top goalie.

“We could both mutually agree it did amazing things for our career,” Ratzlaff said of how they’ve pushed each other. “I think every day we showed up to practice with the mindset that we were going to compete against each other, and no matter of that was a bag skate at the end of practice or a small-area game, it was never just, ‘Oh, he’s going to beat me.’ It was, ‘I’m going to do what he does and more.’

“It was constantly competitiveness, constantly working with each other to make each other better.’”

Ironically, the Sabres drafted Ratzlaff 10 spots before the Winnipeg Jets selected Milic in his third year of eligibility.

While the goalies split the workload almost evenly for Seattle during the regular season – Milic played 35 times – coach Matt O’Dette utilized Milic for all 19 playoff games and then all four contests in the Memorial Cup.

In the near future, O’Dette expects Ratzlaff to seize the No. 1 job.

“Matt’s convinced this kid’s going to be an impact starter for Seattle,” said Forton, who noted Ratzlaff’s father is 6-foot-3 and his mother is 5-foot-10.

Ratzlaff started for Canada at last year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup, posting a minuscule 0.50 goals-against average while going 4-0 and backstopping his country to a gold medal.

“When he’s at his high level like the people talk about him at Hockey Canada and Seattle, he’s not beatable,” Forton said. “Now, do we see bad games out of him? Yes. But when those start to go away and you see the high side, that’s exciting, and if he grows another inch or two that’s really exciting.”

The Florida Panthers on Wednesday signed former Sabres forward Rasmus Asplund to a one-year, two-way contract. The Sabres traded Asplund, 25, to the Nashville Predators prior to last season’s deadline.

Development camp concludes Thursday morning with a three-on-three tournament.

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