Three Sabres prospects selected to preliminary World Junior rosters

December 04, 2018 - 10:26 am

On Monday, three Buffalo Sabres prospects were named to the preliminary roster for their respective home countries for the upcoming 2019 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Goalie prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and defenseman Oksari Laaksonen were both named to Finland's preliminary roster of 25 players, while forward Matej Pekar was named to the Czech Republic's preliminary roster of 28 players.

Luukkonen is the only Sabres prospect returning to the World Juniors after participating in last year's tournament when it was held in Buffalo. The 19-year-old netminder struggled in last year's tournament as the country's starting goalie, posting a 2-3 record with a 3.13 goals-against average and a .879 save percentage. Finland was eliminated in the quarterfinal round when they fell to the Czech Republic in a shootout.

Buffalo's second round pick (54th overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft has gotten off to a hot start this season as the starting goaltender for the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League. Luukkonen has appeared in 22 games this season, posting a 15-5-1-1 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. The Wolves are currently atop the Central Division standings with a 17-8-1-1 record, thanks in large part to the play of Luukkonen. Sudbury selected the 6' 5", 212-pound goalie with the third overall pick in the 2018 CHL Import Draft.

The Sabres signed Luukkonen to his three-year entry-level contract back in June.

Laaksonen is hoping to crack the World Junior roster after some impressive showings with the Finnish national team this summer. The 19-year-old defenseman is coming into his own in his first full professional season in the Finnish Liiga, playing with Ilves in Tampere, Finland. In 24 games to this point, Laaksonen has scored three goals and registered 13 points.

The Sabres selected Laaksonen in the third round (89th overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft, and was an unknown commodity when he was selected. Since then, Laaksonen has grown considerably with his physical stature, now standing at 6' 2" and 165-pounds, and also with his maturity on the ice. He's developing into a smooth skating, smart, puck moving defenseman with more of an offensive mindset.

Laaksonen could be one of Finland's top defensemen in this tournament as part of a group of relatively younger blue liners.

As for Pekar, he's looking to crack the Czech roster that will feature plenty of experience up front.

The Sabres' fourth round pick (94th overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft is off to a good start in his first season in the OHL with the Barrie Colts. The 18-year-old has scored 10 goals and picked up 20 assists in 27 games played this season, and currently sits third on the team in scoring.

The Colts selected Pekar in the fourth round of the 2018 CHL Import Draft, but he had spent the year before playing with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the United States Hockey League. Last season, the pesky forward scored 14 goals and registered 54 points in 56 games. That stat line and his play was good enough to earn him the honor of USHL Rookie of the Year.

Fans got a first look at Pekar when he participated in development camp this summer. There, he was not afraid to throw the body around and try to get under everyone's skin. He was also the player who took a thunderous hit from defenseman Rasmus Dahlin during one of the sessions.

Pekar signed his entry-level contract with the Sabres back on October 17.

Team USA is expected to announce their preliminary roster at some point this week, and there's a good chance that Sabres defensive prospect Mattias Samuelsson will be named to their preliminary roster.

The 18-year-old defenseman is currently playing his freshman season with Western Michigan, where he has three goals and three assists in 14 games played for the Broncos this season. The Sabres took Samuelsson with the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft after spending two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Each of the 10 teams participating in the tournament will need to have their rosters trimmed to 23 by, at the latest, December 24. The event gets underway in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia on December 26.

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