Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Linus Ullmark says, "Hey. Don't forget about me," in season finale

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-10-2017

When it comes to goaltenders in the Sabres organization, GM Tim Murray traded a 2015 first round pick for Robin Lehner to be his No. 1 goalie in Buffalo. Lehner, who's up for a new contract, appeared in 59 games for the Sabres and put forth a solid campaign in net despite floundering in the shootout. In the system, Notre Dame Cal Petersen (2013, 129th-overall) just finished his junior season with an NCAA Frozen Four semi-final loss which his 90th consecutive game played for the Irish. If he decides to forgo his senior season, the Sabres have until June 1 to sign Petersen or he'll be free to shop his services elsewhere.

Swedish netminder Jonas Johansson made his North American pro debut on March 25 for the Rochester Americans. The 2014 third round pick (61st) came over from the homeland and now has six starts under his belt. At 6'4" 204 lbs. Johansson certainly has the size that NHL teams seem to covet these days, but like the fellow Swede he's set to replace in Rochester next season, Johansson needs to further acclimate to the AHL/NHL style of play.

Lehner and Petersen have been grabbing all the attention in Sabreland lately and with Johansson crossing the pond, 2012 sixth round pick (163rd) Linus Ullmark, seems to be the forgotten man in all of this.

Ullmark has been in the system longer than any of them and his journey has been a long, step-by-step process was fraught with successes and failures from Sweden to Buffalo. It's a journey that incorporates five years of pro development that began with MODO Ornskoldsvik of the Swedish Elite League and continued in North America with a quick stint in Rochester before an extended stay in Buffalo before he headed back to Rochester for a full year of AHL seasoning. Along the way he won the Honken Trophy in 2013-14 for the SHL Goalie of the Year and helped keep a bad MODO team from being relegated in 2014-15. He elected for double hip surgery that off-season and healed remarkably fast to the point where a December, 2015 return date ended up being a call to Buffalo in October and a 20-game stint as a rookie in the NHL that fall/early winter.

The events of the prior  10 months finally caught up to him while playing for Rochester and he would finish his 2015-16 Amerks campaign with a 10-16-0 record, 3.41 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.

The 6'4" 212 lb. Ullmark came into this season as Rochester's undisputed starter and after a rough start settled in behind an Amerks team that struggled everywhere on the ice, especially on defense. This year in 53 appearances he's 25-26-2 with a 2.86 gaa and .909 Sv%. The 1611 shots he's faced are by far the most in the AHL.

This past weekend with the Sabres finishing their season in Florida, Ullmark got the call up to Buffalo. He backed up Lehner on Saturday vs. the Florida Panthers but got the nod for the finale in Tampa yesterday evening. The Sabres, however, ended up losing 4-2 to the Lightning through no fault of Ullmarks. He gave up three goals on 37 Lightning shots (.919 Sv%) with the game-winner being a deflection off of his defenseman. He was smooth in net, calm, cool and collected and flashed some leather to rob Tampa's Jonathan Drouin blind.

The Sabres are heading into this off season with only one signed goalie in the organization--Jason Kasdorf, who spent most of his time in the ECHL. Lehner and Ullmark are both restricted free agents while backup Anders Nilsson is unrestricted and unlikely to return. Johansson was signed by Rochester and we're still waiting on word as to what the future holds for Petersen.

That said, Ullmark showed yesterday that he's progressing nicely. Sure, it was a meaningless game for most players, but for others like Ullmark, he's still trying to make an impression. His strong game yesterday in the season finale was a way of reminding Murray that he's still around.

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