Heading into the 2020 NHL draft, the Edmonton Oilers featured a glaring hole when it came to high-quality forwards in their farm system.
Kailer Yamamoto graduated during the 2019-20 season, leaving a pair of former second-round picks, Tyler Benson and Raphael Lavoie, as really the only forward prospects in Edmonton’s system who realistically have a future as a top-six player in the NHL.
Ken Holland addressed that need this fall when he used all six of the Oilers’ draft picks on forwards.
In the past, we had seen the Oilers use mid-round picks on forwards with low ceilings (Mitch Moroz, Cam Abney, Travis Ewanyk, and so on) who the organization believed could eventually become checkers and role players. That wasn’t the case this year. The strategy put forth by Holland at Co. at this year’s draft was to add forwards who have skill and can produce.
Despite the obstacle of not having a second-round pick, the Oilers did really well for themselves at the draft, snagging a couple of high-upside forwards who could be hidden gems. Today, I’ll talk about Carter Savoie, a local product who the Oilers grabbed with the No. 100 overall pick after a huge season for the Sherwood Park Crusaders.
Position: Left wing
Date of Birth: Jan. 23, 2002
Drafted: 2020, No. 100 overall (EDM)
Height: 5’10” / 178 cm
Weight: 181 lbs / 82 kg
It’s pretty on-brand for the Oilers to draft a player who grew up in their back yard. That strategy has resulted in some criticism from fans, but this situation with Savoie is different than in the past.
Previously, we’ve seen the Oilers reach too high on a low-upside local player, like Travis Ewanyk, who was drafted No. 74 overall in 2012. Even drafting Edmonton-native Tyler Benson, a player who featured quite a bit of upside, with the No. 32 overall pick in 2016 garnered criticism because names like Alex DeBrincat were still on the table.
With Savoie, the Oilers didn’t overreach and landed themselves what could end up being a steal at No. 100. Heading into the draft, Savoie was ranked as high the draft’s No. 32 prospect. Scott Wheeler of The Athletic said that “on pure, raw skill, most evaluators will agree that Savoie is a first-round talent.”
Savoie is a full-on weapon offensively. He isn’t a big guy and he isn’t an elite skater, but Savoie boasts enough strength and quickness to get the job done in the offensive zone. The hallmark of his game is his skill and creativity. He has excellent vision and can make defenders look like pylons with ease. He also has an incredibly good, deceptive shot and can pick corners from absurd angles.
In 2019-20, Savoie produced 53 goals in 54 regular-season games for the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the AJHL. That was one of the best seasons offensively for a U-18 player in AJHL history, not too far behind Mike Comrie’s 60-goal season in 1997-98.
It’s important to note and that scoring at a goal-per-game pace in the AJHL isn’t the same thing as doing so in the WHL. Of course, these question marks also came up a few years ago when Cale Makar was selected with the No. 4 overall selection out of the AJHL and he’s quickly proved any doubters wrong. The AJHL might not have WHL-level quality of competition, but it’s a good league.
We’ll soon get to see how Savoie handles the next level of competition as he joins the University of Denver for his freshman season playing NCAA hockey. Denver’s season is set to begin on Dec. 2.
So, with all this in mind, why did Savoie fall to the Oilers at No. 100? How could so many teams pass up on this kind of scoring ability?
As great as Savoie’s skills are, he’s viewed as somewhat of a one-way player. Savoie has been criticized for his play without the puck and for sometimes having a lack of competitiveness in his game. If the puck isn’t on his stick, he might just be floating around. Scott Wheeler, who I quoted earlier, had an interesting observation about Savoie’s tendencies and how he can produce despite having an otherwise ho-hum game…
Some question his commitment off the puck, his shift-to-shift effort levels and his defensive game. I don’t disagree. Savoie can fade in games in a big way. He plays too high in his own zone. He drifts up ice ahead of the play looking for a pass. It can be frustrating to watch. But he’s also one of the only players in the draft who can come out of an unremarkable game with two goals because all he needs is a split second.
All told, what we have here is a very interesting prospect to follow. Savoie undoubtedly has holes in his game but the one thing he does really, really well is the most important part of the game — scoring goals. You can’t teach that skill.
Maybe Savoie will develop a more complete game playing in the NCAA. Maybe he won’t and he’ll fizzle out because of it. Maybe he’ll ride his scoring ability all the way to the NHL. Maybe he’ll follow in the footsteps of Mike Comrie, dominating the AJHL and the NCAA en route to playing for his hometown Oilers. Who knows.
Regardless, I would rather the Oilers be drafting players like Savoie with mid-round picks who feature major skill and upside than grinders and role players like they have in the past. This is a much-welcomed change of approach.
For reference, players who I consider to be “prospects” for this countdown are skaters who have played fewer than 50 NHL games and goaltenders who have played fewer than 25 NHL games. I’m basing the rankings on a combination of upside and the likelihood of reaching that potential.