Thursday, April 25, 2019

Luukkonen undergoes hip procedure

Sabres top goaltending prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen will be sidelined for at least six months after undergoing double hip surgery Wednesday afternoon.

Chosen 54th overall at the 2017 NHL Draft, Luukkonen recently completed his first season of North American hockey with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League, setting single-season franchise records with 38 wins (t-1st in OHL), six shutouts (1st), and a 2.50 GAA (3rd). His .920 save% was best among all league backstops, rounding out an impressive campaign that saw him named a finalist for both the OHL Goaltender of the Year Award and the Red Tilson Trophy as the Most Outstanding Player of the Year.

In between guiding the Wolves to the playoffs, Luukkonen starred for gold-medal winning Finland at the 2019 World Junior Championship to cement his stature as an elite NHL prospect.

It was at the tournament that Luukkonen experienced pain in his hips, and realized the day that many goaltenders are forced to experience, one when they are forced to address the years of friction in their joints, was nearing.

Luukkonen essentially played through injury for the entire second half the season. Practice time was limited in the four months since the World Juniors as he rehabbed his hips and maintained his mental focus on his next start.

While the repeated dropping to the knees for butterfly saves often forces young goaltenders to endure the procedure, the development was still met with mild disappointment by Sabres’ brass, who would have preferred to have Luukkonen available for the Rochester Americans’ American Hockey League playoff run following his victorious 32-save debut on the final day of the regular season.

Instead, the Sabres now must focus on the positive outcome and look forward to Luukkonen returning to game action sometime between Halloween and American Thanksgiving, essentially placing him on the same rehabilitation timeline that current Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark endured after undergoing a similar double-hip operation in April 2015.

A promising physical prospect that has all of the qualities of a driven, coachable asset with an insatiable desire to improve, Luukkonen is expected to play at least one full season in the AHL before taking a run a full-time NHL job. The Sabres will execute their individual development plan regardless of the setback, which now puts two goaltending prospects in the rehab cycle with Jonas Johansson already recovering from successful season-ending surgery in February.