The Buffalo Sabres have drafted and developed a number of youngsters currently playing in the NHL (Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power, Dylan Cozens), and the club under former GM Jason Botterill and current GM Kevyn Adams have been able to replenish the organization with young prospects. Throughout the month of August and leading into training camp next month, we will rank the club’s top prospects over the upcoming weeks based on their progress in either the NCAA, CHL, Europe, ECHL, or AHL and their potential to make the Sabres roster and make a contribution in the future. Players are eligible for the list if they have not played more than 40 NHL games and are 25 years old or younger:
#16 Topias Leinonen
The Sabres have young goaltenders that they are on the NHL roster in Devon Levi and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen who they are hoping will be their tandem for years to come, but GM Kevyn Adams continues to feed their prospect pipeline with young netminders. In the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal, after selecting three centers in the first round, the club selected Finnish prospect Topias Leinonen in the second round.
Viljami Marjala (20) calls for it and executes a beautiful deflection up and over Topias Leinonen. Marjala finished with 2+1 in TPS U20's 5-1 win over JYP. Leinonen stopped 23 shots in defeat. pic.twitter.com/0n8TgURfIk
— Kris Baker (@SabresProspects) November 3, 2022
Leinonen is the prototype of what NHL clubs are looking for physically out of a goaltender, at 6’4″, 214 lb. The 41st overall pick posted a 2.28 GAA and .916 save percentage at the junior level in Finland, played for his country at the IIHF Under-18 World Juniors, and got a cup of coffee in the pro-level SM-Liiga and second-level Mestis league.
Last season, Leinonen took a step back statistically at the junior level but performed better in his eight games for JYP in Liiga. He is expected to play full-time at the pro level either in Mestis or for JYP this season and is projected to be in the mix for Finland’s entry in the World Juniors in Sweden this December.
Hockey Prospect.com’s Black Book compares Leinonen to former All-Star Pekka Rinne, indicating that “he is extremely fluid in certain movements and can stop almost any puck with his legs due to his extension rates and reflexes”, but “when evaluating how he tracks shots from the point, or when he has to track shots through screens that are coming at lower percentage angles off the walls, that’s an area where he’s run himself into potential trouble. In terms of point shots, he’s uncomfortable with layered traffic.”
It is expected that Leinonen and 2023 draftee Scott Ratzlaff will battle for the spot as the next goalie to challenge for the roster spot behind Levi, but that is likely to be two or three years down the road.