The Buffalo Sabres have signed Kootenay Ice goaltender Nathan Lieuwen to a three-year entry-level contract, the NHL club announced over the weekend.
Lieuwen, who has spent the better part of five years with the Ice, earned the deal after a breakout season last year cemented him as one of the top goaltenders in the WHL.
The Sabres noticed his performance in 2011 as the Ice captured the league championship and drafted the Ice starter 167th overall in the sixth round of the NHL Entry Draft.
Lieuwen said that his agent had been talking with Buffalo over the season, but the contract negotiations heated up after the Ice bounced out of the playoffs at the hands of the Edmonton Oil Kings in March.
"Once the season ended, we started talking a little bit more about the contract and what was going on, and from there, we came to an agreement," Lieuwen said.
"They would negotiate the contract and bring certain offers to me and during that process, it was an exciting time."
Lieuwen didn't disclose the financial terms of the contract, but said it was a fairly standard deal which puts him in an ideal place within Buffalo's system.
Lieuwen will report to a summer development camp in July before returning for the club's main training camp in September.
Depending on his performance, Lieuwen could stay with the NHL franchise, but will likely end up with their AHL affiliate in the Rochester Americans or the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL.
But despite the competition, Lieuwen said he's happy to have the contract inked and know that he's a part of the Sabres' organization.
"Of course, everybody's fighting for a job-that's just the nature of hockey-but it's just nice to be in a place with a good situation," Lieuwen said.
The Abbotsford, B.C. product graduated out of the WHL at the end of this past season ranked third overall with a 2.50 goals against average and a 9.14 save percentage.
He also broke the Ice franchise record for wins, with a WHL career record of 85-59-8-7, which was previously held by Taylor Dakers at 82 victories.
Lieuwen backstopped the Ice throughout the 2010/2011 campaign that ended with a WHL championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup in Mississauga, Ont.
He went 16-2-1 over that playoff run and earned the MVP honours, with a 2.24 goals against average and a 0.923 save percentage, along with posting three shutouts.