Heading into the 2020 Draft, arguably the biggest weakness in the Oilers prospect pool was their lack of scoring forwards. The organization clearly recognized this and for the first time in franchise history, used every single one of their draft picks to select a forward. Naturally, there has been a lot of talk about their first-round pick Dylan Holloway, but the player they snagged at 100th overall, also caught the attention of both fans and analysts.
When the Oilers were on the clock in the third round, at 76th overall, I was hoping they would take a chance on St. Albert product Carter Savoie, who I had watched rip up the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2019/20, scoring 53 goals in 54 games.
When the news came across that they had traded down 24 spots in a deal with the San Jose Sharks, I was a little disappointed. For a team that desperately needs to add goal-scoring forwards to their system, I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t have held onto their third-round pick and used it on a local product who I thought was one of the best forwards still available.
My disappointment quickly turned to elation when Savoie, who many draft analysts had going early in the third-round or even sooner, fell to the Oilers in the fourth round.
As someone who covered the Sherwood Park Crusaders for the entirety of Savoie’s time there, I saw his natural goal-scoring ability first hand. He’s dangerous from any spot on the ice because of his high-end shot. What exactly makes his shot so dangerous? I asked Crusaders Head Coach Adam Manah that question.
“Good offensive goal scorers, the puck just follows them around in the offensive zone. It’s tough to teach guys how to have that patience with the puck, especially around the net. The second thing would be how quickly he gets it off. Goalies don’t normally get set. Number three could be the most important, besides getting it off quickly, it’s his ability to change his shooting angle. Whether that’s a toe, a push/pull, or whatever it might be. He does all of those things better than anyone else,” said Manah.
His shot is usually the first thing that gets brought up when you talk to someone about Savoie and understandably so. It’s a big reason why TSN’s Craig Button recently described him as one of the best pure goal scorers in the 2020 NHL Draft class.
“It’s just the one-two punch of how quickly he gets it off and how accurately he can pick his spot. He shoots on the goalie before they’re even set. If you get him the puck in a scoring spot, it’s going in nine-out-of-ten times,” said former Crusader Arjun Atwal, who centred Savoie for the majority of his 53 goal season.
On top of his shot, another thing that always stuck out to me was his patience with the puck. Sometimes players with high-level shots are a little trigger happy. They just want to let the puck go the second it touches their stick. That’s not the case with Savoie and this goal is a terrific example of that.
Right after he enters the zone, there is a chance for him to just rip the puck on net, but the goalie is set and there’s space in the middle of the ice, so he opts to cut in. There’s even a second chance for him to shoot while he cuts across, but he decides to wait an extra half-second and when he does release the puck, the goaltender is right in the middle of pushing across the crease and has basically no chance of stopping Savoie’s quick snap-shot.
His shot is deadly, but there’s much more to his game. He’s listed at just 5’10 but he plays the game like a power forward. His willingness to go to the tough areas of the ice to get the puck is something that really made him stand out in the AJHL and was something that Manah always admired about him.
“The second one for me was just how hard he competed. Whether it was on pucks or just him not backing down from being physical, and engaging in the battles whether it was along the wall, in his own end, in the corners, in the offensive zone. Those were things that stood out” said Manah, when I asked him what Savoie’s biggest strength is outside of his shot.
Both his patience and ability to play through contact, in combination with his shot, are what allowed him to be one of the best Junior A players in the country last season.
When you combine regular season and playoffs, Savoie scored 86 goals in 124 AJHL games. Sure, there were goals that came in blowout wins, but he had plenty of big game moments. One that sticks out was this past season, in a matchup between the Crusaders and Bandits, who were the two best teams in the country at that point, Savoie scored three goals in a Crusaders win. On top of that, he’s scored overtime winners and netted hat-tricks in games against some of the best teams in the league. There were many big-game performances, so I asked Manah, who would have seen all 86 of those goals, which one was his favourite? His answer was this snipe against the Bandits.
While I didn’t see all of Savoie’s goals throughout his junior career, there is one that sticks out to me as well. This goal he scored against the Bonnyville Pontiacs at the Sherwood Park Arena is simply beautiful.
As you can tell by watching those clips, he just has a knack for scoring goals and he can put find the back of the net in a variety of different ways. His ability to score will never be a question, but he’s still a fourth-round pick and it’s far from certain that he ever plays a game in the NHL. If there’s one area of his game that will need to improve, it’s his skating.
His skating isn’t a problem or even a weak spot, it’s just not at the same level as the rest of his game. The shot is there, the hockey sense is there, but he’ll just need to be able to use them all at a higher speed if he wants to make it to the next level. Savoie has said that he’s working on his footwork and his first three steps and he’ll need to continue to work on them as he tries to become an impact player at the University of Denver.
Around draft time, you always hear recently drafted players being compared to current NHLers. Before Savoie was drafted, I asked him who he sees as a good NHL comparable for himself and what traits he enjoys watching in certain players.
“For me, I like a lot of different things from a lot of different players. I like the way (Auston) Matthews shoots the puck or the decisiveness of (Patrick) Kane. All those little things,” said Savoie.
But if he had to pick one player who he thinks he’s most similar to?
“I would say TJ Oshie. He has the offensive mind but gets it done physically as well.”
It will be fascinating to watch him develop in the NCAA over the next couple of seasons but as of right now, the Oilers appear to have added a prospect with the potential to be a dynamic goal-scorer to their system, which is not something you would usually say about a player taken 100th overall.