BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Sabres meet their Maple Leaf rivals on Wednesday night in St. Thomas, Ontario as part of the Kraft Hockeyville series, in the third of five preseason games this week. Winning 4-1 on Tuesday night at KeyBank Center, the Sabres remained unbeaten in exhibitions after a 4-3 win at Washington on Sunday. Here are four takeaways from the preseason so far.
Levi looks sharp
Devon Levi transformed from prized prospect into Buffalo’s top goaltender in matter of seven starts late last season. The 21-year-old showed no signs of rookie regression in his first preseason game, making 19 saves in two shutout periods against the Bruins.
“Every game is an opportunity to learn and grow,” Levi said. “It was just another one. It was definitely nice to to be able to see some pucks before going into the season. Just took it as an opportunity to make some saves and have some fun. Maybe learn a thing or two and get ready for the season.”
Levi made eight saves while the Sabres were killing penalties, and received an ovation from the crowd after scrambling in the crease to stop a flurry of shots late in the second period.
“We all know he’s excited to play and brings a lot of enthusiasm,” coach Don Granato said. “His preparation is always stellar. You don’t know what these games are going to be like, but you’re not in a rhythm. It’s typically a lot more chaotic. It was in spurts only, which meant he had to concentrate and keep his focus during some long stretches of not a lot of action. When there was action around him, he was sharp.”
Benson ‘very impressive’
After scoring a goal in the preseason opener, the Sabres’ recent first-round pick dazzled again with a backhand pass to set up Jeff Skinner’s goal on a power play in the first period of Tuesday’s game.
The 18-year-old did not look out of place taking Alex Tuch’s place on the top line with Skinner and center Tage Thompson. He was very active on the forecheck, in addition to his contributions on the score sheet.
“Just about everything he did leaves a real good impression,” coach Don Granato said. “He’s a very – much like I’ve been saying for the last four or five days, you put him with top players and he can process the game as well as anybody and he showed that again tonight. He has a knack and a sense to read plays, make plays, steal and strip pucks from players that you shouldn’t in this league. In two games, he’s been very impressive equally both nights.”
Casey Mittelstadt assisted on goals by Riley Stillman and Brandon Biro, continuing a trend from the final weeks of last season when was most productive centering the Sabres’ top line.
The Sabres first-round pick in 2016 has bounced between center and wing over the past few seasons. He is a viable option to play wing on one of Buffalo’s top lines while Jack Quinn recovers from an Achilles tendon injury, but Granato has stated that the preference is to utilize Mittelstadt at center.
“Now that he’s established himself to a greater level, I think everybody’s going to start to see the stuff we’ve been seeing behind the scenes and talked about,” Granato said. “I moved him around last year from wing to center. We’ll do the same. I think for me ideally I’d love to keep him at center more than not. But we’ll see how it goes. We know he meshes with lots of people because he sees and feels the game very well. He buys time for his linemates, able to possess the puck and extend the possession.”
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is expected to start in goal for the Sabres against the Leafs. See the full roster for the game here. Eric Comrie should get the nod Thursday in Pittsburgh, lining up another start for Levi at KeyBank Center on Saturday.
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.