Devon Levi patiently navigated each stage of his development, confident that a professional career would follow if he made the right decisions along the way.
“I’ve never really chased the top tier,” Levi said during the Buffalo Sabers’ development camp last summer. “I kind of let it come when the time was right.”
The time has come. Levi and the Sabers agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract on Friday, six days after his junior season at Northeastern University ended in the Hockey East tournament.
Levi returned to Northeastern last season with the intention of continuing the success he enjoyed the previous year. He led the nation with a .952 save percentage in 2021-22, the second-best mark in NCAA history. He won the Mike Richter Award for Best Collegiate Goaltender and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
The 21-year-old again led the NCAA this season with a .933 save percentage and ranked third in saves (1,183) and shutouts (6). He was previously named Hockey East Player of the Year, is one of three finalists for the Richter Award and one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker.
Levi’s decision to return for his junior season was consistent with the patient approach he took throughout his career. He gave up at the start of his junior hockey career for a third U18 AAA year with the Lac Saint-Louis Lions in 2018-19. The previous season, he led the league with a .927 save percentage.
“Honestly, it’s been my toughest year in hockey,” he said. “It was expectations, learning to manage expectations. I was a bit younger and I had a good season my second year. So this is how you’re going to start again? I struggled a bit early trying to manage it.”
Video: DEVELOPMENT CAMP: Levi
Levi recorded a .909 save percentage that season as he honed his all-around game – playing the puck, developing off-ice habits and becoming a leader in the locker room. With all of that, he skyrocketed to a .937 save percentage in 16 postseason games.
It has remained above .930 ever since. His .941 save percentage led the CCHL in its only junior hockey season. His mark of .964 in seven games at the 2021 World Junior Championship earned him tournament MVP honors as well as a silver medal.
Levi was a seventh-round pick by the Florida Panthers in 2020. The Sabers acquired him in July 2021 with a first-round pick (used to select forward Jiri Kulich) in the trade that sent Sam Reinhart in Florida.
“The prospect we got is really close to our hearts,” Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams said of Levi at the time of the trade.
The organization set to work building a relationship with Levi over the next two years. Levi was present alongside Adams for a Sabers morning practice in Boston last May and had his full introduction to Buffalo at development camp. The experience left a mark.
“Kevyn said in our little meeting before development camp that we were looking to win a Stanley Cup,” Levi said at the time. “I think the organization is on the way. It’s really impressive.”