The men's Olympic hockey tournament in Beijing is going to be fascinating, to say the least. With no NHLers, the top national programs have been forced to scramble, combing Europe and even the developmental ranks for new recruits. For Canada, one of the most important players could end up being a 21-year-old goaltender with less than a year of college experience under his belt: Devon Levi.
"If you asked me last year or the year before if I ever thought I would go to the Olympics, I would have said 'probably not,' he said. "Forget about in a year or two. I'm super-grateful to be here."
In fact, the idea of going to the Olympics didn't even occur to the youngster until he saw an Instagram post about Canada's potential roster a month ago; before that, he had assumed his last game in a Team Canada sweater had already happened at last year's world juniors.
But the Northeastern University star has been one of the biggest stories in NCAA hockey this season, posting nine shutouts in 24 games and rocking a .948 save percentage in the process.
"You look at his numbers and it's absolutely incredible," said Team Canada GM Shane Doan. "He's doing things at the NCAA level that just don't happen."
What makes it all the more remarkable is that Levi missed the entire 2020-21 college campaign: He took part in Canada's extended world junior camp, then led the team to a silver medal despite playing through a broken rib that would put him on the shelf for the rest of the season.
Now he's heading back to the international stage and if history is any indicator, pressure-packed situations are kind of his jam.
Levi first broke onto the scene at the 2019 World Jr. A Challenge when he helped Canada East earn silver, losing a heartbreaker to Russia in the final. Levi was named tournament MVP, then carried on the good vibes back with his local club, the Carleton Place Canadians. The hot-shot netminder won league MVP and Canadian Jr. A player of the year honors.
That summer, he was drafted in the seventh round by the Florida Panthers, who later traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the Sam Reinhart deal. In Beijing, he'll be on the same Canadian squad as ace Sabres prospect Owen Power, the University of Michigan defenseman who went first overall to Buffalo in the 2021 draft.
So what can we expect from Levi? Well, you're gonna get athleticism, that's for sure. He's got incredibly quick legs and lateral movement and in recent years, he's become more patient. He has to be great in those areas because at just six feet tall, he doesn't have ideal size for an elite netminder.
Lucky for Canada, he won't be facing NHL-level shooters at the Olympics. Heck, his competition at last year's world juniors - which included Americans such as Trevor Zegras and Cole Caufield - was probably more dangerous. But if he ends up being the guy, he will have to bring some of that old Levi international magic back to the table.
Canada's lineup looks pretty solid, but everyone will have to push to get to that gold medal, especially with other nations having a lot more familiarity on their rosters.
"Everything has happened so fast," Levi said. "We're in Switzerland right now, we're almost in China...we're soon to be Olympians and we didn't know this would happen a month ago. It's crazy."
As crazy as a goalie posting more shutouts than losses in his first NCAA campaign? Welcome to Devon Levi's world, where the impossible looks easy.