Chants of "MVP, MVP" and "Levi, Levi" filled Boston’s TD Garden this week. Supporters fanned their arms bowing down to the growing greatness of Buffalo Sabres prospect Devon Levi as they shouted his name. The cheers rose throughout the final of the 70th annual Beanpot Tournament and reached a fever pitch in the moments after Levi stopped a point-blank attempt with time running out in a tie game followed by all three attempts in the tournament’s first-ever shootout en route to being named MVP, and lifting his Northeastern Huskies to a title.
Few goaltending prospects have done what Devon Levi has before reaching the professional ranks. In fact, if he wins his second consecutive Mike Richter Trophy as the NCAA’s best goalie this year, he’ll be the first netminder in NCAA history to complete the feat.
At the Beanpot, culminating in a 3-2 shootout victory over Harvard in the final, Levi stopped 65 of 68 shots faced, and then all three attempts in the shootout.
"He's made for these moments," said Northeastern coach Jerry Keefe of Levi on NESN after the game. "A special kid."
This “special kid” is giving Buffalo Sabres fans reason for hope in the future. Levi, a seventh-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2020, was acquired by the Sabres as part of a deal sending Sam Reinhart to Florida in the summer of 2021. Although he’s slightly undersized by NHL standards, Levi has put up enormous results at every level.
As Steven Ellis of The Daily Faceoff wrote about Levi this week, "Levi is the best goaltending prospect in the NCAA right now, and it won’t be long until the Sabres make him turn pro. Sure, he’s 6-foot-0, but his sample size at all levels – which includes the 2022 Mike Richter Trophy as the top NCAA goaltender last year and seven Hockey East player of the week awards over the past two years — makes it seem like he may be one of the few smaller goalies who make it work in the NHL."
On top of his NCAA honours, Levi was the CCHL’s best goaltender and MVP, as well as the CJHL’s rookie of the year, top goaltender, and player of the year in 2019-2020. That year he was also named the tournament MVP at the World Junior A Challenge. In 2020-2021, Levi was named the best goaltender at the World Junior Championships and earned himself a spot as the third goalie for Canada at the 2022 Olympics.
Levi has played beyond his size and years at every level. As The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler wrote, “He has exactly the skills smaller goalies need to be successful. Impressive control on his outside edges (and the patience to hold them), quick feet on his shuffles so that he can stick with dekes and go post-to-post or low-to-high to get to tough pucks, perfect reads on shooters, excellent tracking through and under traffic, and a battler’s mentality in the net which keeps him in plays even when he looks like he’s down and out on his knees.”
With a growing list of fans and accolades, the question begs, when will Devon Levi turn pro, and where will he fit into the Buffalo Sabres’ future plans?
The answer to the first question is, almost certainly, imminently. When Northeastern’s NCAA season comes to an end, it’s expected the Buffalo Sabres will immediately sign their top amateur goaltending prospect.
With 41-year-old Craig Anderson’s NHL days likely ending at the conclusion of his contract after this season, the Sabres will have only Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen under contract in net. Luukkonen, seen as Buffalo’s uncontested goaltender of the future prior to the acquisition of Levi, has taken over Buffalo’s starting role this season at age 23, albeit with mixed results. Luukkonen is playing to a winning record, but his 3.47 GAA and .896 save percentage aren’t instilling confidence. Luukkonen certainly has an NHL future — likely as a starter — ahead, but if Levi’s trajectory continues, he will be the netminder the franchise hangs its hopes on.
Buffalo’s roster is filled with talent at every position including former first overall picks Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin on the blueline, and with a plethora of established stars and prospects up front including Tage Thompson, Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs, JJ Peterka, and Jack Quinn, the Sabres look poised for years of success.
Finding a true No. 1 goaltender remains Buffalo’s lone area of need. Through 60 career NCAA games this season and last, Levi’s sparkling 1.91 goals against average and .941 save percentage, and his mountain of awards in recent seasons, gives hope that the Sabres' answer in net will arrive in the NHL sooner rather than later.
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