Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - Two weeks after signing his first professional contract in the NHL, goalie Devon Levi will make his first-career start on Friday night when the Buffalo Sabres host the New York Rangers at KeyBank Center.
ESPN NHL insider Kevin Weekes was the first to report Levi's impending start late Wednesday night.
"It's exciting. I've been dreaming of this moment for my whole life," said Levi following Thursday's practice in Downtown Buffalo. "For it to finally be here, it's a big deal, and I'm really excited."
Levi says head coach Don Granato just gave him the news as if it was business as usual. He got the news in plenty of time so he could have his family and extra support in town for the game Friday night.
"I think some family, friends, some teammates are trying to come down, getting flights in today or tomorrow. They've been with me throughout the whole journey, so it means a lot that they're coming to support me, and it'll be great to have some support," Levi said
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The Rangers will be one heck of a challenge for Levi in his first start in the NHL. New York enters the game with a 44-20-10 record, and have already clinched a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Levi says he's looking forward to the challenge they present on a nightly basis.
"It's a hell of a story. I love it," he said. "They're a great team, and I'm really excited to get my first game [against them]. I'll watch some videos tonight, I've watched them a few times, obviously, since I've been born, watching the NHL. But they're good team, and really excited to face them. Some really good players on that team."
Before the Rangers play the Sabres on Friday, they will be just across the Hudson River on Thursday night to take on the New Jersey Devils in Newark. The rookie netminder will definitely be tuning in to watch some of the game to get some early study work in on the Rangers.
"The more information we know, the better, but at the same time, you could over study team. You never know what's going to happen until you're out there, reading the play and just getting a feel for the game," Levi said. "I'll do my studying a little bit tonight, but tomorrow, it's just instinctual out there."
Levi knows very well what kind of talent he will be facing come Friday night. Not only will he be facing staples of the team like Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Alexis Lafrenière and others, he will also be going up against their new additions in Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane. Levi says he wouldn't have his NHL debut any other way.
"Going up against the best is why I'm here, why I'm excited," he said. "It'll be a great challenge tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to it."
Since signing in Buffalo, Levi has only gotten a handful of practices in with the rest of his teammates. While his preparation time on the ice has been limited, he has done all he can to prepare for his NHL debut off the ice, as well.
"The first few days I was off the ice, watching guys. Just looking at stick blades and the pace, and how skilled guys are and tendencies, stuff like that. Then once I got out there, I was able to actually see it on the ice. It's obviously a different perspective being in the blue paint than being in the stands. So getting involved, and just being around the guys, understanding how the game works, how the game unfolds. Seeing their shots, seeing what they like to do on the ice," Levi explained. "Just being out there has taught me a lot just in this one week, or less than a week I've been on the ice. So I think it'll be valuable moving forward, and I can't wait to keep practicing with the guys. They're unbelievable. So I'm getting better every day."
Despite never having played a game in the NHL just yet, Levi says this experience has been everything he could have dreamt of, and then some.
"It's been, I think, a little over a week that I've been here, so I'm settled in, I think the excitement is still here," he said. "I know it won't be here forever, but I kind of know what to expect, and I'm just excited for tomorrow."
With nine games left in the season, the Sabres remain five points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference Wild Card chase. The team remains behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for that final playoff spot, and also four points back of the Florida Panthers, who are also fighting for that final spot.
Even though the stakes will be enhanced for Friday's contest in Downtown Buffalo, Levi says this is exactly the spot he wants to be in for the final stretch of contests.
"It's a great situation to be in. I want to help the team make a playoff run, and it just makes the game even more valuable, even more precious," Levi said. "It's just a great opportunity, and I'm just grateful that they're giving it to me."
The 21-year-old netminder was acquired by the Sabres at the 2021 NHL Draft from the Florida Panthers in a trade that saw Buffalo sending forward Sam Reinhart to South Florida for Levi and a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. That first-round selection ended up being forward Jiri Kulich.
In his two seasons manning the net at Northeastern University for the Huskies, Levi was one of the best goaltenders in the nation, posting an overall 38-22-6 record in 66 games played with a 1.90 goals-against average, a .942 save percentage and 16 shutouts. He was named the Hockey East Goaltender of the Year for the past two seasons, and was also named the Hockey East Player of the Year for the 2022-23 season.
Levi also won the Mike Richter Award in the 2021-22 season as college hockey's best goaltender with a 21-10-1 record, a 1.54 goals-against average, a .952 save percentage and 10 shutouts.
Though his numbers dipped just a bit this season at Northeastern, Levi was still one of the best goaltenders in college hockey with a 17-12-5 record, a 2.24 goals-against average, a .933 save percentage and six shutouts. He is, once again, a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, as was named a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's Most Valuable Player.
Levi was a seventh-round pick of the Panthers in the 2020 NHL Draft after spending his draft year playing in the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) with the Carleton Place Canadians, where he posted a 34-2-1 record, a 1.47 goals-against average, a .941 save percentage and eight shutouts.
Also from Thursday's practice, defenseman Mattias Samuelsson returned with the rest of his teammates, as well as forward Jordan Greenway. However, both forward Tage Thompson and goalie Craig Anderson were still not able to take part in practice.
According to Granato following Thursday's session, Greenway, Samuelsson and Thompson will all be game-time decisions against the Rangers on Friday.