Linus Ullmark will make his NHL debut for the Sabres on Saturday night, but it won’t be his professional debut. The 22-year-old played in Sweden’s elite league during the previous two seasons.
Buffalo’s goaltending coach can tell.
“You can tell in his composure and how he analyzes the game,” Andrew Allen said in First Niagara Center. “He’s a real student of the game, and you can tell that he put the time in – not just working on his on-ice game but the mental side of it and analyzing different game situations.
“He’s a pro. He may be young, but he’s a pro.”
Like most European goaltenders, Ullmark’s biggest adjustment to the North American game is the size of the rink. No one shoots from the boards overseas because they’re too far away, but Ullmark has quickly learned that NHL and American Hockey League players can fire from anywhere.
He’s adjusted, in part because of surgery on both of his hips in April. Ullmark wasn’t cleared to practice during much of training camp, so he and Allen had plenty of one-on-one time.
“Because the rink’s a little smaller, goalies have to get comfortable with the fact they don’t need to move as much,” Allen said. “It’s a lot less movement in the North American game, so we worked a lot in training camp, especially when he wasn’t in full practice yet. It was just us out there, and we could work a lot of angle stuff.
“He got a lot more comfortable with it, and he went down to Rochester and played very well in the three games he had in a North American rink with a North American style of game. It’s coming. It’s a process, but he’s coming.”
Ullmark went 1-2 in Rochester with a .932 save percentage. The hips were not a factor and haven’t been for a while.
“When we started, the biggest thing was we had to go very short on the reps,” Allen said. “It didn’t take him long that we could increase the time he was working and decrease the rest. Within two weeks, you could do almost anything with him, which was great.
“It’s becoming very common in goaltending, these hip surgeries, and goalies come back stronger after it. It’s something that you have to monitor, but it’s not a real alarming situation. It seems like a guys are getting it done and then being really good after.”