Matthew Savoie Commits To Denver, WHL Not Out Of The Picture

This year, two players in Canada applied for “Exceptional Player Status” in order to be able to play in the CHL a year early. Shane Wright of the Don Mills Flyers was granted that status. Matthew Savoie was not.

https://twitter.com/mattsavoie7/status/1107832216304812032?s=21

The controversial decision to grant Shane Wright “Exceptional Player Status” and not allow Matthew Savoie to play early has brought an interesting scenario. The 5’9″, 175lbs forward is now planning on playing his draft year in the NCAA with the University of Denver Pioneers. He also plans to play at Denver a year early thanks to not only playing a year ahead in hockey, but also being a year ahead academically. He would be a rare player who plays in the NCAA in his draft year. While this isn’t entirely uncommon, players such as Shane Gostisbehere and Alec Martinez have been drafted recently out of the US college system, but a player hasn’t been drafted as high as Savoie is expected since Phil Kessel was selected 5th overall in the 2006 NHL draft.

The decision to not grant Savoie “Exceptional Player Status” is mostly questionable because the age deadline is the last day of the year, December 31st. Savoie was born on January 1st, essentially making him applying to play in the age group that is a day difference in age. Cam Robinson, managing editor at Dobber Prospects, had this to say about the decision,

“The decision to deny him that request – despite being a single day away from being able to do so without exception, was curious. The result has led to Savoie announcing his commitment to the University of Denver – the same school his older brother, Carter is committed too.”

Savoie felt that should he not gain exceptional status, committing to play against older players in NCAA can help his development. It has been long rumoured that Savoie was always strongly considering the NCAA route. Education is important to him and his family and he would welcome the opportunity to play with his brother at the University of Denver.

Possible Destinations this Upcoming Season

Matthew Savoie has multiple options this up coming season since he isn’t going to the University of Denver until the 2021-22 season. He could still make the decision to be drafted into the WHL and play in the CSSHL (Canadian Sport School Hockey League) this season like he has this season while making up to 5 appearances (15 year olds can only play 5 games unless their midget season has ended) for the WHL team bold enough to take a player who is committed elsewhere. This would take a WHL general manager feeling like he could convince Savoie to forgo his school plans and play in the WHL. If Savoie plays one WHL game, he will not be eligible for the NCAA.

Another option could be to make the jump to Junior A and play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. This is an option that keeps the St. Albert, Alberta native close to home for a couple more years before deciding to join the college ranks. Numerous NHL players have spent time in the AJHL including Tampa Bay‘s Brayden Point and 2018 Stanley Cup Champion net-minder Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. This option would have Savoie likely playing at a lower level of hockey than he should be playing at due to his high-end skill set. Although the AJHL is a realistic option, it remains a secondary option.

The most realistic option, should the NCAA be the destination of choice, is to go to the States and join the USHL. This is the most likely option due to the fact that Savoie will get the opportunity to play with players close to his skill level. The USHL has been consistently producing talent at high rates and when you look at most scoring predictive models, the USHL and the WHL actually grade out about the same in terms of future predictability. This would be the most lateral move for Savoie. Allowing him to move to the United States, get acclimated to the country and the USHL and United States hockey programs, as well as remaining eligible to play in the NCAA after finishing high school a year early.

The NCAA is a legitimate option

The 5’9″, 175lbs forward will grow over the next two years. This will allow him to take full advantage of the USHL and the outstanding training facilities that the league has to offer. The USHL has had numerous improvements over the last decade, off ice training and the sport science are two main areas of improvement for the USHL. With those benefits, Savoie should go into the NCAA with a mans body, somewhere around 5’11” and 190lbs is about where his growth is headed. If this is the case in two years when he begins to play for the Pioneers in 2021-22, he can use the year against players that will be at least a year older, often times up to 4 years older. This will allow Savoie the ability to play against the closest thing to a “Man’s league” that North America has to offer.

Players who come out of the NCAA often come into the NHL as high hockey IQ players, often being relied on as a good two-way player because the coaching and systems in the NCAA are generally very structured and 200 foot focused. This will play into Savoie’s game as he is one of the most developed 2-way players to come out of midget hockey in a decade or more. He is one of the best 200 foot player in his age group and he has a natural defensive instinct and awareness that players his age often don’t possess.

Honing his 200 foot game in, allowing him to continue to play above his age group and getting started on his education are all factors in Savoie’s possible decision to go the NCAA route.

Savoie is a Special Player

What makes Matthew Savoie special is that he plays a style of game similar to Sidney Crosby. They are not the same player, Crosby is in an upper echelon lost players nobody dream of reaching. Crosby has been described as an “Elite Grinder” as he has never been shy about going into corners, mucking it up in front of the net or battling along the boards. Savoie also fits that mold.

With tools that exceed most players at his level along with an elite hockey IQ, Savoie is able to not only beat players out for pucks in the corners or along the boards but he is able to escape those situations with the puck and transition from retrieval mode to offensive mode seamlessly. He has a lot of strength for a player his age and has developed the ability to hold defenders off while carrying the puck. A strong body and solid base to go along with his excellent skating ability will only increase the somewhat hyperbolic Sidney Crosby comparisons.

When speaking to Steven Ellis from The Hockey News, he had this to say on Savoie’s skill set.

“The sky’s the limit with him. He’s got tremendous speed and shoots wrist shots like he’s a cannon. Very smart, doesn’t look for simple plays, goes for the effective ones. Small kid but wins a ton of battles along the boards. Lots of confidence to takes risks and has the speed to backcheck when he makes a mistake. Makes everyone around him better.”

The skill set that Savoie possesses is easily far above the players he’s played with this year. As a 15-year-old, he’s currently 5th is CSSHL scoring with 71 points in 31 games. The only players ahead of him are three 17 years olds who all play on the same line and a 16-year-old skilled playmaker. Last year’s top pick in the WHL Bantam Draft, Dylan Guenther, is playing in the same league and has 58 points in 28 games. Savoie currently has 2.29 PPG compared to Guenther’s 2.07 PPG even though he is about 8 months older, which is a large gap at this stage in development.

The WHL is still a realistic option

Another point touched on with Steven Ellis is the fact that many believe that Savoie’s commitment to the University of Denver is more of a tactic than a reality. Possibly using the threat of going to the NCAA as a way to help avoid being drafted by certain WHL teams in the upcoming WHL Bantam Draft. Steven Ellis had this to say,

“I am also extremely confident that him committing to the NCAA is just him and his family saying he’ll only consider going to a handful of WHL teams and will use that as leverage as to who drafts him. I don’t think he ever plays a college game in his life.”

This is a bold move on Savoie’s part and a move that isn’t completely unheard of. Many prospects across the CHL have committed to NCAA programs. One recent example was Will Cuylle who was drafted 3rd overall in the OHL Priority Selection Draft by the Peterborough Petes. Prior to the draft, Cuylle decided to commit to Penn State University and told the Petes that he would not report to camp if they drafted him. When Peterborough elected to draft Cuylle anyways, he held true to his word and did not report to camp. When this occurred, Petes GM Mike Oke decided to call other OHL teams to see if there would be a fit elsewhere. He ended up being traded to the Windsor Spitfires for a massive package. Players often feel that one organization can aid their development more than another so they force the teams hand.

To say that this is a guarantee would be foolhardy but this is probably the most likely option. Based on where he is from and the teams development record, two teams that Savoie may want to play for are the Edmonton Oil Kings or the Lethbridge Hurricanes but nothing of that nature is confirmed. Playing in the WHL, or any CHL league for that matter, is the peak of development for junior hockey aged players. The league provides a “pro style” life with travel, long bus rides and some of the best competition in the world for the age group. It has been the natural stepping stone for many North American players in the NHL. Cam Robinson, the Managing Editor at Dobber Prospects agreed with this sentiment and was also curious about that scenario,

“It will be interesting to see if a WHL team drafts him early despite this commitment with the intent to change his mind. If not, this will be a massive loss for the CHL and a massive gain for the USHL/NCAA.”

Where Matthew Savoie chooses to play next year and up until his draft year is far less important than the fact that he will be playing at a high level regardless of which route he chooses. He will likely be one of the best players in whichever league he chooses and he will continue to be atop most draft rankings for the 2022 draft. More than likely, he has two realistic options. The WHL or the USHL. If he does decide the USHL is his route, he will likely play at the University of Denver for one season and one season only. The teams atop the WHL draft will be put in the position of deciding if they can either convince Savoie to join the team, trade him for more assets or pass on him all together. Not an easy decision by any means and it will likely be a story that isn’t finished until he fully commits to a path.

For more on the hockey and the NHL, follow me on Twitter @theTonyFerrari

Stats from hockey-reference.com, eliteprospects.com, nhl.com and TSN.ca

WHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

It’s that time again! Everything that happened in the regular season is now in the past, and teams in the WHL’s Eastern Conference can turn the page to  to a new chapter. While some teams may look like they are severely outmatched, there could be some teams that will catch some of the league’s best off guard in the first round.

East Division

(1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (WC2) Red Deer Rebels

What started out as one what looked like one of the greatest seasons in CHL history, the Raiders sure took a dip in the second half following the New Year. This can be accredited to Team Canada’s Ian Scott and Brett Leason coming back from a World Junior hangover. While Leason still led the team in points with 89, he only scored 25 points in his last 24 games, a far cry from his two-point per game pace he started the first half of the season with. Noah Gregor was able to help pick up the slack offencively while Leason was wearing the Maple Leaf, and finished right behind Leason with 88 points, good for ninth in league scoring. Scott has still been one of the top netminders this season, as he finished second in the league in wins (38), goals-against average (1.83), and save-percentage (.932).

The Rebels really survived the late stages of the regular season to squeak into the final playoff spot in the East. The Rebels enter the postseason on a four-game losing streak, and only won two of their final eight games. The offence lives and dies with Brandon Hagel. The Chicago prospect finished fourth in league scoring with 102 points. The next leading scorer is Cameron Hausinger, who only put up 54 points this season.

The Raiders finished the season winners in five of their final seven games. They will use this series to refocus and retool for a deep run into the postseason. The Raiders just have more scoring throughout the lineup than the Rebels, and Red Deer just does not have the same depth as Prince Albert.

My Pick

While Prince Albert may not be at their peak like they were earlier this season, they are still having better fortunes than the Rebels, Raiders in five.

(2) Saskatoon Blades vs. (3) Moose Jaw Warriors

Moose Jaw, regardless of their record, have loads of scoring on both ends of the rink. Justin Almeida has been incredible down the middle, with his 111 points third in the WHL in scoring. Tristin Langan has become one of the better two-way forwards in the league. While his 113 points is second in the league, Langan is also sixth in plus/minus with a +43. Rookie Brayden Tracey has been pretty good to say the least, with his 81 points leading all freshman. Jett Woo and Josh Brook have been solid on the back end for the Warriors, both responsible in their own end and exceptional in the offencive zone. Brook’s 75 points was tied for the most among all d-men, while Woo’s 66 points is fifth.

The Blades ended the season on an excellent run. Since February 1st, Saskatoon went 16-2-1, including a nine-game winning streak from February 1st to 16th. Much in large part to their big three. Top prospect Kirby Dach was exceptional in his second season in the league, with 73 points in 62 games. He will have to step up in this series if he wants to increase his draft stock. Max Gerlach was impressive, scoring 42 goals and 32 assists, and ending his season on a five-game point streak. Over-ager Dawson Davidson was one of the best blueliners in the WHL this season, and one of the most offencive as well. Davidson scored 75 points, which was tied with the Warrior’s Brook for the most among defencemen.

Saskatoon was one the hottest team’s in the league, while the Warriors were on cruise control, opening the door for the Blades to snatch second place in the East Division. While statistically Moose Jaw may have the better goaltender in Adam Evanoff, the Blades’ Nolan Maier has been consistent throughout the season, winning 36 games, third most in the league. Home ice may not favour the Warriors in this series, as the Blades won all three games at the Mosaic Place.

My Pick

Certainly a close series. Even with the offencive stars with the Warriors, the Blades depth will be what helps them in the long run, as they will win the series in seven.

Central Division

(1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (WC1) Medicine Hat Tigers

While Saskatoon was one of the hottest teams in the league, Edmonton was THE hottest team in the WHL. The Oil Kings ended the regular season on an 11 game winning streak, and have only lost once since Valentine’s Day. Much of the credit can go to the incredible season Trey Fix-Wolansky has had. The Columbus draft pick finished the season tied for fourth in league scoring with 102 points, and his 65 assists was second in that category. Another reason the Oil Kings were so good this season was the play of netminder Dyland Myskiw, whose 2.53 GAA was fifth in the league, with a .914 SV% that was ninth.

While Myskiw was the backbone for Edmonton, Medicine Hat’s Mads Sogaard was outstanding this season. No question, he was the best rookie goaltender in the WHL, certainly staking his claim for rookie of the year. Without big-time scoring, the Tigers would not be in the position they are without the play of Danish netminder. That said, goals are needed to win hockey games, and the Tigers will be looking at James Hamblin and Ryan Jevne to produce. Hamblin led the team in goals and assists, with his 77 points a career high. Jevne followed with 68 points in his fourth season with the Tigers.

There were very few signs of the Oil Kings slowing down in the waning days of the regular season. The Tigers had to earn their way into the playoffs, and winning three in a row in the past month helped them achieve that. While Edmonton won five of the six meetings between the two, four of them were decided by one goal, two being decided in overtime and another via shootout.

My Pick

Good hard battles, and Sogaard will make it tough on Fix-Wolansky and the rest of his teammates, but it’s hard to see the Tigers winning at Rogers Place, Oil Kings in six. 

(2) Lethbridge Hurricanes vs. (3) Calgary Hitmen

The Hitmen bounced up and down between a top-three position and Wild Card spot throughout this season. Yet, winning seven out of their last 10 games helped distance themselves from Medicine Hat and Red Deer enough to earn the third seed in the Central Division. Mark Kastelic and James Malm have shared the spotlight in Calgary, both leading the Hitmen with 77 points. Malm lead the team in assists with 43, and Kastelic’s 47 goals third among all WHL goal scorers.

The Hurricanes, despite having a young talent in Dylan Cozens, decided this is a great opportunity to make a run to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals, and went out a bought talent. GM Peter Anholt completed a trade with Regina to obtain Nick Henry and Jake Leschyshyn. The move paid dividends, as Henry went on to lead the team in points, and his 97 points ranked him seventh in league scoring. Leschyshyn has been a very balanced player with 81 points, and Jordy Bellerive has been a consistent presence on the power play with 24 points with the man advantage, second on the team. Probable first-rounder Cozens has also been exceptional heading into this summer’s draft, as he is second on the team in scoring with 84 points. 

While Hitmen ended the season on a high note, the Hurricanes ended the season on a higher note, winning 11 of their last 12 games. Lethbridge is clicking on all cylinders heading into this series, whereas the Hitmen lost three games to the streaking Oil Kings in the final two weeks of the season. The Hurricanes have Calgary’s number this year, winning five of the six meetings this season, including a 7-4 win just two weeks ago.

My Pick

Lethbridge is just too good right now for the Hitmen to handle, ‘Canes in five. 

All stats and records found from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

 

WHL Report: Moose Jaw on Fire, Lethbridge Going For it All

The Moose Jaw Warriors have won seven of their last eight games, and have not lost, in regulation, since November 2nd. Their Eastern Conference foe, the Lethbridge Hurricanes have decided to go for broke, and completed a trade which saw them send players and draft picks to the Regina Pats for a pair of highly touted scorers.

THE WARRIORS’ CALL

The Moose Jaw Warriors had plenty of expectations coming into this season. After finishing last season with the best record in the WHL (and second in the CHL behind Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds), they were eliminated in the second round by the Swift Current Broncos, the eventual Ed Chyneworth Cup Champions. Despite losing to top scorers Jayden Halbgewachs and Brayden Burke, there was plenty of hope that the Warriors would return to the top of the standings. However, in the team’s first 12 games, they were only 5-4-3, and struggling to find the back of the net. However, the club seemed to have found their touch, and have reeled off impressive performances in the month of November. After falling to Saskatoon 5-2 on the 2nd, Moose Jaw easily handled the Kootenay Ice the following night. After losing to Central Division-leading Red Deer in overtime on the 10th, the Warriors have won six straight games. It was not like the stretch was a cake walk for the Warriors either. Three wins over Lethbridge, and a big overtime victory over Edmonton sent Moose Jaw from middle of the pack towards the top of the East Division.

Most of this run was completed without star forward Justin Almeida, who was injured in game one of the CIBC Canada/Russia Series. The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect missed four games, but came back in a big way against the Edmonton Oil Kings last Friday. He had a goal and assisted on Tristin Langan’s OT winning goal. Almeida has been one of the most consistent players so far in the WHL. In only two games this season has the Kitimat, BC native been held off the score-sheet.

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LANGAN SAYS HELLO

If there is a player who is need of an impressive season, it is Tristin Langan. The un-drafted overaged forward has steadily improved in his first three seasons with Moose Jaw. Except this year, he has not just improved, he has been on fire for the Warrior offense. He has scored a team-leading 39 points in his first 22 games, just three points less than his 42 than he had all last season. He sits eighth in league scoring, and eighth in goals with 18.

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Moose Jaw has won eight of their last ten games, and they are going to need to carry this momentum into December. They have a few big divisional games coming up, as they are to take on Red Deer tomorrow night, and a back-to-back against Saskatoon next weekend.

LETHBRIDGE ADDS EVEN MORE OFFENCE

The Hurricanes were another team that was expected to come out of the gates strong this season. Last season they waltzed through the first two rounds before meeting Swift Current in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they fell to the Broncos in six games. Through the first two months of the season, they were at a respectable 7-4-1-2. Since the start of November, however, they have only been a .500 club. In their last 10 games, they are 4-4-2  and have left the front office wondering what needs to change. At the moment, the Hurricanes are tied for fourth in the league in goals-for with 95. With an offensive attack led by Jordy Bellerive and tier one prospect, Dylan Cozens, it makes sense why the ‘Canes are feared by most defensive units in the WHL. Their true weak spot has been on the other side of the ice. They have given up as many goals as they have scored (95), which puts them sixth-worst in the league in that category. Net-minders, Reece Klassen and Carl Tetachuk have been sub-par to say the least, with both of their GAAs well above three.

So, what did GM Peter Anholt decide was best to help his team get back on track? More scoring. This was confirmed after the Hurricanes completed a trade with the Regina Pats Thursday morning. The Hurricanes acquired top scoring forwards Jake Leschyshyn and Nick Henry. Both forwards were key parts to Regina’s success last season. Henry’s five goals in last spring’s Memorial Cup was tied for most in the tournament. In addition, he is seventh in the WHL in points (40) and assists (25). The Colorado Avalanche prospect has been far and away the best Pat this season, and is leading the Hurricanes in scoring. Henry is truly a great playmaker, with an excellent scoring touch, he will be a perfect winger on Lethbridge’s top line. 

On the other hand, Leschyshyn, a Vegas Golden Knights draft pick, is really starting to blossom as a top centre. The Saskatoon native has scored 40 points in each of the last two seasons. This year, he is on pace for almost 80. A player who can put the puck in the net, just as often as he can dish the puck off, he will only add to the plethora of talent down the middle in Lethbridge.

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The future remains to be foreseen for the ‘Canes, but with the added talent to an already dominant offense, Lethbridge is setting themselves up to be a true contender in the East.

stats from whl.ca