The Sabres said at the end of development camp they were pondering where goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen would play next season and it appears they will have a much shorter jaunt to follow his progress.
Luukkonen, who was drafted No. 3 overall in the CHL Import Draft at the end of June, has opted to come to North America and will play next season for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. Luukkonen tweeted the news late Thursday afternoon.
— Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (@ukkopekkaluukko) August 2, 2018
Luukkonen, 19, is the first goalie Sudbury has taken in the import draft since 2011. He signed his three-year, entry-level contract with the Sabres in mid-June.
Luukkonen spent most of last season with Leki of Finland’s second division, going 11-11-2 in 24 games and finishing seventh in the league with a .909 save percentage. He also spent time in Buffalo last winter as part of the Finnish team in the World Junior Championship.
The move to Sudbury gives Luukkonen a chance to accelerate the development process on the smaller North American ice sheet. Sudbury GM Rob Papineau and coach Cory Stillman, a Stanley Cup champion with the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning and 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, worked with the Sabres to get all sides in agreement.
"He is a World U18 Gold and Silver medalist and a first-rate goaltender that both the Sudbury Wolves and the Buffalo Sabres are very high on," said Papineau. "He is a physical presence in the goal crease, a great athlete and a young man that is eager to step into our organization and help our hockey team succeed."
"We are very pleased that Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen will be joining the Sudbury Wolves,” Sabres assistant GM Steve Greeley said in a statement issued through the Wolves. “Rob Papineau and Cory Stillman were very thorough in their drafting and recruiting of Ukko. We are excited to work alongside the Wolves in Ukko’s development.”
Luukkonen is the youngest of the six goalies in the Sabres system. Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark are slated to man the nets in Buffalo with Scott Wedgewood and Adam Wilcox seemingly set for Rochester and Jonas Johansson set for Cincinnati. The Sabres did not draft a goalie this year.
In other Sabres prospect news, Matej Pekar will remain in the United States Hockey League and return to the Muskegon Lumberjacks rather than begin his college career at Miami (Ohio), according to accesshockeymi.com.
Pekar, a Czech center selected in the fourth round in June, was the United States Hockey League Rookie of the Year, totaling 14 goals and 40 assists in 56 games. He earned notoriety during Buffalo's development camp for run-ins with Rasmus Dahlin, including being on the receiving end of a thunderous check from the No. 1 overall pick during one drill, and for some hard physical play with Casey Mittelstadt during the team's French Connection Cup 3-on-3 challenge.