If you don't know much about goaltender Devon Levi yet, it's OK. The Florida Panthers prospect spent the early part of Canada's world junior camp isolated with fellow NCAA players Dylan Holloway and Alex Newhook, so he didn't get the same exposure as his major junior peers. Levi also played Jr. A in the CCHL last season, a circuit based around Ottawa that has produced some nice players recently but doesn't have the same star power as the Jr. A leagues in B.C. or Alberta.
But Levi has already snuck up on people before and been successful, so there's no reason to doubt he can't do it again on Canada's world junior team.
Last year, Levi helped Canada East shock the field at the World Jr. A Challenge, as the underdogs went all the way to the final where they had to settle for silver after a loss to Russia. The circumstances are notable, however: Levi made 36 saves in the 2-1 loss and the winner came on the power play from future New Jersey Devils first-rounder Shakir Mukhamadullin in double-overtime, hitting a Canadian forward's arm before it got to Levi.
In the semi-final, Levi made 41 saves and all four shootout attempts in a 2-1 shootout win over Team USA, a squad featuring future NHL first-rounder Brendan Brisson and a murderer's row of other USHL stars.
Despite the loss in the final, Levi was named tournament MVP and playing in such a pressure-filled situation was a great confidence-builder for the young man, who now has the world juniors in his sights.
"Playing on an international stage for the first time was unbelievable, I had a great time," he said. "That experience will help me with this tournament; I learned a lot and definitely took the next step in my game. I found something within me: In my performance in the semis and the final, I found a new gear and hopefully I can tap into that for this tournament."
And the Canadians might need him. There was no bullet-proof starter coming into camp and now that Canada has chosen its three goalies (Taylor Gauthier and Dylan Garand from the WHL round out the trio), it will be up to the kids to establish themselves. At six-feet tall, Levi doesn't have typical pro size, but he makes up for it in other areas.
"He's really fast," said Canada coach Andre Tourigny. "Side to side, his legs are really quick."
Levi sees himself as a goalie who uses not only his speed, but his smarts to read the play well and always be in position.
"A change I've brought to my game is patience," Levi said. "I feel like I was a bit all over the place last year and I've toned that down a bit. I'm more in control - I'm waiting to read plays and releases before I react."
Playing for the CCHL's Carleton Place Canadians last season, Levi posted awesome numbers, rocking a 34-2-1 record with a miniscule 1.47 goals-against average and robust .941 save percentage. That led to league MVP and national Jr. A goalie of the year honors.
The Panthers grabbed Levi in the seventh round of the 2020 draft and it will be interesting to see what they can do with him in the future. Florida just announced the creation of a Goaltending Excellence Department, as legendary coach Francois Allaire and special advisor to the GM Roberto Luongo will join goalie coaches Robb Tallas and Leo Luongo.
"Francois and Roberto provide us with unmatched experience and an exceptional pedigree," said Panthers GM Bill Zito. "Their guidance, in tandem with our goaltending excellence staff gives us confidence in the evaluation of future talent and that Panthers goaltenders will be provided invaluable resources for their success and development."
Most of Levi's development this season will come at Northeastern University, where the Huskies compete in a very tough Hockey East conference and will need the freshman to step up, once he gets back to Boston from Edmonton.
As for those world juniors, it's been a journey for the goaltender and he has earned his arrival - though a roster spot isn't the ultimate destination, of course.
"There's a lot of hard work that has gone into it, for sure," Levi said. "I put in a lot of extra work, but for me it wasn't 'extra work,' it was just more time to play the game that I love. I always stay out after practice - I usually take the whole hour and I think those extra hours every day built up.
"The work has only begun. It's not about winning the starting spot, it's about contributing as much as I can and stopping the puck. I just want to win the gold medal, no matter how it happens."