Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen's re-trial by fire
The Finnish prospect's return to Buffalo was long anticipated and his first few starts provided a course of mythological trials
When Eric Comrie went down with a lower-body injury on November 16 it brought 23-year-old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen back to the NHL and with it the weight of the world upon the shoulders of the 6-foot-5 2017 second-round pick from Finland.
Luukkonen arrived with NHL experience from his previous two seasons, a total of 13 games in which he went 3-8-2 with a .913 save percentage. While the record isn’t great, the save numbers were adequate for a young player being pressed into duty because of myriad injuries in some of the most extreme circumstances.
This time around, he returned to the NHL looking to build upon those experiences, to show that what he’s worked on in Rochester is improving, and that he’ll be a guy they can count on in the future, be it sooner or later. It’s one thing to adjust from the AHL to the NHL, it’s another to have the first four games back in the best league in the world to be a game in Toronto against the offensively powerful Maple Leafs, and three home games against a St. Louis Blues team that at the time was riding a seven-game winning streak, and last season’s Stanley Cup finalists the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche.
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That’s not so much a trial by fire, but more like the Labours of Hercules. Be it Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner on a breakaway, Vladimir Tarasenko’s blazing snapshot, Steven Stamkos’ thunderous slap shot, or the all-world skill of Nathan MacKinnon, it’s a daunting task for even the most experienced goaltenders, never mind a younger one with minimal NHL experience.
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