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Levi Shines in Debut, Sabres Top Rangers

April 1, 2023, 2:42 AM ET [1190 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Confidence, awareness, positioning, puck-handling, athleticism: Devon Levi demonstrated a full arsenal of NHL-caliber traits as he and his Sabres team earned a 3-2 overtime win over the New York Rangers on Friday night.

Rarely has a goaltender debut generated such an eagerly anticipated debut, although Levi undoubtedly earned that expectation as he left his college career with the second-best NCAA save-percentage in the organization’s history. His 31-save performance against the Rangers backed up that hype.

If you wanted to see acrobatic, sprawling saves, you saw them:

If you wanted to see supreme command of the net mouth, you saw that as well:

Devon Levi plays an athletic, awareness-based game that is predicated on a balance between anticipatory positioning and hockey-god-given acrobatic talent. More than that though, he displays a supreme confidence in his ability to control the activities in front of his net. When faced with a routine save, Levi would glove a puck and calmly turn around to take a sip of water before the ensuing faceoff; when the situation called for him to aggressively play the shooter and take away the angle, he did so without hesitation.

In short, he displays the kind of confidence that you want to see from a number one goaltender. The traits are all there for him to assume the starter’s net in short order, and the team has undoubtedly already started responding to his presence.

When Jeff Skinner – who played an incredible game in his own right – scored the overtime winner that sent Sabres fans home happy, he made sure to point back toward Levi in recognition of Levi’s 21 saves in the third period.

Let’s be honest: this team has been dying for one of their three goaltenders to show up and deliver the kind of performance Levi produced in his NHL debut. With Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen well below the .900 save percentage line, and with Craig Anderson unable to start enough games due to his advanced age, the table was set for Levi to come in and prove that he is not only the heir apparent to the Sabres goaltending throne, but also the current king of the hill.

Skinner’s emphatic response to his game-winning goal demonstrates the team’s readiness for his arrival. It’s hard to see him spending any kind of time in the minors this year or even next year when he is already displaying complete control over his game. Sure, there will be times when he struggles, as any young player does, but there is little doubt that Levi has a well-deserved confidence in the game he plays.

Levi’s first game was the kind of scripted debut that Sabres management must have dreamed of when they traded former 2nd overall pick Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Levi and and a 1st round pick (later used to select Jiri Kulich). There were no unnecessary movements or over-reactionary plays in Levi’s performance on Friday; he simply played the game as it came to him. His 6’0” frame – which is on the smaller side for NHL netminders – did not seem to be an issue because he’s able to anticipate shots and make himself big in net.

That aspect of his game is quite a contrast to the 6’5” UPL who has a big man’s frame but tends to play a small man’s game as he sinks into the net. As for what comes next, it’s anyone’s guess. The Sabres play the Flyers tomorrow and they could easily decide to go with UPL or Comrie in net while giving Levi a much-earned day off.

If we’re being honest, though, Levi gives this team the best chance to win out of any goalie on this roster and it’s not particularly close.

The future isn’t far away now. The future is here, and his name is Devon Levi.
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