3 reasons Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is a legitimate Vezina candidate

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has been arguably the Buffalo Sabres best player this season, and he is the reason they are hanging onto playoff contention.

Buffalo Sabres v Seattle Kraken
Buffalo Sabres v Seattle Kraken / Steph Chambers/GettyImages
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Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s record isn’t impressive, as through 44 games and 41 starts, he’s 23-17-3. That is a far cry from what Sergei Bobrovsky of the Florida Panthers has attained, or even Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. 

Other potential candidates like Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks, and Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers, among others, have outshined Luukkonen in the win-loss-overtime loss category. But overall records are bad stats, as Bobrovsky, Hellebuyck, Demko, and Shesterkin are playing for much better teams.

You can also say the same for goaltenders in a timeshare role, like Jeremy Swayman of the Boston Bruins or Adin Hill of the Vegas Golden Knights. But Luukkonen has beaten all of the above in one or more categories this season. And if he continues his current pace, there is an outstanding chance he ends the year with strong consideration for the Vezina.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen deserves to be a legit Vezina candidate

This isn’t saying Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen should win the Vezina, as he hasn’t helped the Sabres sit in a playoff spot at this point. But, given the state the team has been in, plus the fact he’s improved arguably more than any other goaltender in the NHL this season, there is a case to be made here. 

This also isn’t even implying Luukkonen is the Sabres future No. 1 goaltender, as Devon Levi still has a higher ceiling. Levi may not have played well in Buffalo this season, but let’s look at what he’s done since going to the AHL: Through 19 games, Levi has a 2.52 GAA plus a 0.927 save percentage, and Luukkonen never reached those numbers during his time in Rochester.  

But in 2023-24 terms, Luukkonen has by far been the better goaltender, and the only way Levi is climbing back into the role is if he takes the job from him. For 2024-25, Luukkonen has already made such an endeavor difficult, not only because he’s played better than we all believed but also because he’s been an elite goaltender for much of the season.