In this edition of Buffalo Sabres News & Rumors, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen picks up his first win of the season, Rasmus Dahlin records the first multi-goal game of his career, and Nikita Novikov is named to Team Russia’s final roster for the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Luukkonen Wins First Game of Season, Continues Impressive Run with Sabres
Luukkonen has been nothing short of amazing since he was called up to the Sabres on Dec. 6. In four starts, the 22-year-old goaltending prospect has an incredible .939 save percentage (SV%) and 1.99 goals-against average (GAA). On Tuesday, he earned his first win of the season with a .944 SV% performance in a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
Drafted 54th overall in the second round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the Sabres have been waiting for its goaltender of the future to develop, and it appears he may be ready to step into the big league full-time. Luukkonen’s performance against the Jets, coming off three stellar games against the Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals, instilled confidence in his coaches and teammates that he may be ready for the spotlight in Buffalo.
“He was aggressive,” head coach Don Granato said in his postgame interview. “He actually got in some physical confrontations with guys in his crease that I loved, fought for his space. That’s a progression for me, that attitude that, ‘I have ownership of this. I’m not just here for a holiday.’ I like all of that in his game.”
Dahlin Records First Multi-Goal Game of Career on Tuesday
Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Jets marked a great night for yet another young Sabres talent, with Dahlin putting together the first multi-goal game of his career. He beat Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck twice, first on a power play 7:14 into the first period, and then again at even strength in the final minute of the second period. His second goal ended up being the game-winner for Buffalo.
The 21-year-old defenseman is tied for third among all Sabres skaters with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) and leads the team with seven power-play points. In a season that has turned into a development year for many of Buffalo’s young players, Dahlin is off to a strong start in his fourth NHL season. He is just six points shy of tying his points total from last season (23 points) in 28 fewer games.
“He’s a great player and he’s going to make more plays than he’s going to give the other team,” Granato said in his post-game interview. “And that’s going to be a progressive thing. Tonight was a real good vision into his future, really. I mean, that was a vision into his future and capabilities. Nice to see.”
Novikov Named to Team Russia’s World Juniors Roster
On Tuesday, Team Russia released its final roster for the upcoming 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship. Sabres prospect Novikov, drafted 188th overall in the sixth round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, will represent his country when the tournament begins on Dec. 26 in Red Deer and Edmonton, Alberta.
The 18-year-old defenseman has four points (one goal, three assists) in 30 games with Moscow Dynamo in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) this season. Sabres fans can finally get a good look at him when he plays for Team Russia later this month in one of the most exciting hockey tournaments of the year. Novikov and his Russian teammates will look to win gold at the World Juniors for the first time since 2011.
The Sabres are on the road against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Looking to build off a strong performance in Winnipeg, Buffalo will look for its first two-game winning streak since Oct. 28.
Tom Pepper hosts The Hockey Writers Podcast on iHeartRadio and wherever you listen to podcasts, every weekday (Monday to Friday). He also writes the “NHL Talk” and “NHL Sound Bites” columns. He is a diehard Buffalo Sabres fan in Toronto, frequently driving the Queen Elizabeth Way to cheer on his team at KeyBank Center.