Devon Levi has patiently followed every step of his development, confident that a professional career would follow if he made the right decisions along the way.
“I never really pursued the top level,” Levi said at Buffalo Sabers development camp last summer. “I actually just let it come when the time is 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 of the previous year. He led the nation with a .952 save percentage in 2021–2022, the second-best mark in NCAA history. He won the Mike Richter Award as the 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 was third in both saves (1,183) and shutouts (6). He has already been named Hockey East Player of the Year, is one of three finalists for the Richter Award, and is one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker.
Levi’s decision to return for his junior season was consistent with the patient approach he has embraced throughout his journey. He waived the start of his junior hockey career for a third year of U18 AAA with the Lac St. Louis Lions in 2018-19. The season before, he had led the league with a .927 serve percentage.
“That was honestly my hardest hockey year,” he said. “It was the expectations, learning to deal with expectations. I was a bit younger and I had a good season in my second year. So, this is how you’re going to do it again? I struggled a little bit at the beginning trying to manage. It.”
Video: DEVELOPMENT CAMP: Levi
Levi had 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 those elements, he rocketed to a .937 save percentage in 16 postseason games.
It has stayed above .930 ever since. His .941 save percentage led the CCHL in his only season of junior hockey. His .964 score in seven games at the 2021 World Junior Championship earned him the tournament’s MVP honors along with a silver medal.
Levi was a seventh-round pick by the Florida Panthers in 2020. The Sabers acquired him in July 2021, along with a first-round pick (used to select forward Jiri Kulich) in the trade that sent Sam Reinhart to Florida.
“The prospect we’ve been given, we feel really strongly about that,” Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams said of Levi at the time of the transaction.
The organization set about building a relationship with Levi over the next two years. Levi was on hand alongside Adams for a Sabers morning skate in Boston last May and got his full-fledged introduction to Buffalo during development camp. The experience has left a mark.
“Kevyn said in our little development camp meeting that we want to win a Stanley Cup,” Levi said then. “I think the organization is on its way. It’s really impressive.”