The first time I watched Linus Ullmark was 2014 development camp at the prospects scrimmage. As they normally do in these scrimmages, Ullmark, a youngster mostly no one had heard of with flamboyant equipment came into the scrimmage about halfway through. Ullmark pitched a shutout and caught the eye of those watching. There are a lot of scenarios in camps like these where a goalie may play well but you don’t hear from them again. I think Sabres fans and the hockey universe are going to hear a lot about Ullmark very soon.
In 2015 after Robin Lehner went down in the first game of the season, Ullmark and Chad Johnson took over the crease. Ullmark had a reckless style of goaltending but showed glimpses of brilliance. There were times he’d need to spring his body from one side of the net to the other or purposely make a save with his beloved minion mask, but Ullmark showed potential and was a pleasant surprise for such a young goalie stepping in.
Ullmark has since developed in Rochester the past few years after his stint with the Sabres and has backboned the Americans to a 22-8-4 record so far this year and has posted top 5 stats in every goaltending category.
The Sabres got a glimpse of what very well could be their starting goaltender next year and goaltender of the future when Ullmark made 44 saves in the Sabres’ win over the Blue Jackets.
Ullmark showcased drastic improvement in his game since his 2015 stint with the Sabres and was a calming presence in the crease. There was no more flopping around and he always seemed to be in the right position. The tough saves seemed routine and he almost looked Ryan Miller esque on some plays. The Sabres haven’t had a goalie since Miller that has given everyone watching the same confidence that he’s going to make a save in a big moment or on a prime scoring chance, but Ullmark gave off a similar feeling against Columbus.
The Sabres have a decision to make on Robin Lehner as there was disagreement on salary when negotiating a new contract last offseason leading to another summer of RFA status for the 26 year old. Although inconsistent, Lehner has been very good on nights that the Sabres haven’t been.
If the Sabres feel like they have a good NHL caliber goalie in Ullmark, which it appears they do, it might be wise of the Sabres to trade Lehner before the deadline and fetch a return for him if they don’t plan on re-signing him in the offseason.
Ullmark should finish the year in Rochester and continue to be the backbone for them this year as their sights are set on a Calder Cup run, so if the Sabres do want to deal Lehner, they should get a goalie coming back to serve the Sabres for the rest of the year.
Ullmark is clearly ready to be an NHL goalie and getting his first taste of the playoffs on a Calder contending team will be great experience for the young Swede before becoming the Sabres #1 guy.