Sabres’ Luukkonen, Murray & More Impress In Prospects Challenge

The top Buffalo Sabres prospects hit the ice this weekend, giving fans an exciting look at some of the future talent currently in the pipeline. They faced off against the New Jersey Devils prospects at LECOM Harborcenter, the Sabres’ practice arena, competing in the first game of a round-robin challenge featuring prospects from the two teams and the Boston Bruins. Some of the top prospects for the Sabres showcased their skills, including Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Jack Quinn, Oskari Laaksonen, J-J Peterka, Mattias Samuelsson, and Brett Murray. The Sabres skated to a 3-0 win, outshooting the Devils by a 26-22 margin and playing a solid three periods against the top Devils prospects.

Luukkonen Stole the Show for the Sabres

Luukkonen has been the Sabres’ top goalie prospect since he was drafted to be the “goalie of the future” all the way back in 2017. The former second-round pick played all 60 minutes in the first game of the prospects challenge, and stole the show with a 22-save shutout. He shined in all situations, helping to kill off penalties and make point-blank rebound saves by stretching out and using his big frame to keep the puck out of the net. He looked sharp from the drop of the puck, and kept that composure through all three periods.

The 22-year-old goalie played in four games for the Sabres near the end of the 2020-21 season, making his NHL debut and going 1-3-0, while posting a .906 SV%. While the additions of Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell in free agency indicate that Luukkonen will likely start the season with the Sabres’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Rochester Americans, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him crack the Sabres roster again toward the end of the 2021-22 season.

Murray Showed His Maturity

Murray looked like one of the best forwards for the Sabres in this game, and his maturity shone through as he skated on the top line for the whole game. He used his big body to his advantage, playing a hard-hitting game and laying out some of the night’s biggest hits. He registered one goal and one assist, playing a part in both the Sabres even-strength goals and driving the offense. He gets my vote as the best forward on the ice in this game.

Brett Murray Rochester Americans Tyler Wotherspoon Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Brett Murray, Rochester Americans and Tyler Wotherspoon, Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Murray was the Sabres’ fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft, and played in two games with the Sabres last season, recording a plus-1 plus-minus rating and one shot. If there were any player who had a chance at making the Sabres opening night lineup who didn’t make it last season, Murray is that player in my opinion.

Weissbach Showed Off Speed With 2 Breakaways

Linus Weissbach isn’t one of the Sabres’ most high-profile prospects, but he has been around for a while – the former seventh-round selection from the 2017 draft has spent a few seasons developing and improving as a prospect, and it showed in this game against the Devils. While he didn’t register a point in the game, he did show off his speed and stride by beating the Devils’ defense to loose pucks on two separate occasions and getting two breakaway chances. He tried to shoot low both times and was stopped twice by Devils goalie Nico Daws, but his ability to get a shot off each time was impressive in and of itself.

Ruotsaleinen Outplayed the Competition

Arttu Ruotsaleinen centered the Sabres top line in the prospects challenge, and although he was held off the scoreboard, I think he played pretty well for the most part. There were some shifts where he didn’t catch the attention of the fans or do anything special, but there were other shifts where he clearly outplayed the competition, and much like Murray, put his maturity and skill on display to make impressive plays.

Related: Buffalo Sabres 2021-22 Season Preview Section

Ruotsaleinen was un-drafted, and just broke into the NHL last season, playing 17 games with the Sabres last season and scoring five goals, one assist and six points. He played 13 games with the Amerks before joining the Sabres, and was a point-per-game player in the AHL last season, scoring five goals and eight assists for 13 points.

Peterka Impressed With Goal and Chances

Peterka played an aggressive game and was always a part of the Sabres forecheck, which was impressive to see given he is on the smaller side compared to most of the players he was facing off against. He used his speed and skill to pressure the Devils in the neutral zone and to get some good looks in the offensive zone, which he was eventually rewarded for when he scored a goal in-close thanks to a nice pass from Murray in the second period.

Peterka was the Sabres’ second-round pick in the 2020 draft, and is still young with plenty of time to develop at just 19-years-old. He played well against some older players, which isn’t the first time he’s done that – he also put on an impressive performance in the world championships earlier this year for Team Germany. He’s another player I wouldn’t be surprised to see in the Sabres lineup sooner than later.

Sabres Wrap Up Prospects Challenge

The Sabres faced off against the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon, losing that game by a score of 5-2, but staying in it until well into the third period. Peterka had another great performance, flying around the ice and scoring the game-tying goal under a minute into the third period. Murray dominated again, opening the scoring in the first period and using his big body to outmuscle the competition. Winning one game and losing the second one isn’t the worst showing the Sabres could have had, and the top prospects took full advantage of the opportunity and made a statement. Next up: the NHL preseason.


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