The Oilers might have found themselves a hidden gem in the middle of the 2020 draft.
The team has done a good job at adding highly-skilled forwards to the pipeline over the past couple of years, selecting Raphael Lavoie in the second round in 2019 and using their first-round pick on Xavier Bourgault in this year’s draft.
In 2020, the Oilers used all of their selections on forwards. While first-round pick Dylan Holloway highlights that year’s class, fourth-round pick Carter Savoie, another AJHL-turned-NCAA prospect, looks like he could be a steal.
Savoie put together an incredible season for the Sherwood Park Crusaders in 2019-20 and then he joined the University of Denver in 2020-21 and hit the ground running at the NCAA level. There’s no denying Savoie’s skill, especially when it comes to scoring goals, the question is whether he can become a complete enough player to hack it in the NHL.
Position: Left Wing
Date of Birth: January 23, 2002
Drafted: 2020, No. 100 overall (EDM)
Weight: 190 lbs
Savoie’s showing in the AJHL in 2019-20 was huge. He scored 53 goals and 99 points over 54 games in a year that was ultimately cut short due to COVID-19. He became the first U-18 player in 20 years to break the 50-goal plateau in the AJHL, with the last instances being Mike Comrie’s 60-goal season in 1997-98 and Dany Heatley’s 70-goal season in 1998-99.
While a legitimate star like Cale Makar, who was taken No. 4 overall after dominating with the Brooks Bandits, might shift the trend, the AJHL is still viewed as a secondary junior league in Canada and NHL scouts are skeptical of what production in this league means. As a result, Savoie’s impressive AJHL production wasn’t enough to warrant a team using a pick in the first three rounds on him, and the Oilers grabbed him at No. 100.
It isn’t off-brand for the Oilers to select a player who grew up in their backyard, like Savoie who was born and raised in St. Albert. In the past, fans have rolled their eyes at the Oilers reaching too far on players like Travis Ewanyk and perhaps Tyler Benson, but this isn’t the case with Savoie, who wound up going lower in the draft than he was expected to.
Heading into the draft, Savoie was ranked as high as the 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.”
Another issue that holds Savoie back is his lack of size and his one-dimensional game. While Wheeler suggests that his scoring is elite, there aren’t many other aspects of Savoie’s game that he can fall back on…
He can appear disengaged without the puck, he can cheat up ice and flee the zone early, and when he’s not getting touches he can look like a bit of a liability defensively. He’s also not particularly athletic and some evaluators expressed concerns about his skating and weight. But Savoie is a brilliant one-shot scorer who ranked at or near the top of the 2020 draft as a finisher. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone with an accurate shot from a bad angle, a deceptive release that fools a goalie with its timing, and even just pure power from a variety of spots off his body. And that ability should have been enough to make him a higher selection, just as the same was true for Arthur Kaliyev a year earlier.
In his first NCAA season, Savoie continued to do what he does best, which is scoring goals.
He played in 24 games for the University of Denver, scoring 13 goals and racking up 20 points. Those 13 goals ranked second in the NCAA among U-19 players, behind only Ty Smilanic, who Florida drafted in the third round of the 2020 draft. For the sake of comparison, Matthew Beniers, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft by Seattle, scored 10 goals in 24 games in his Freshman season. He’s 10 months younger than Savoie.
Savoie will return to the University of Denver in 2021-22 looking to build on his strong Freshman showing. After that? His performance could potentially earn him a pro contract. A comparable in this situation is Shane Pinto, the No. 32 overall pick from the 2019 draft by the Senators.
Like Savoie, Pinto played in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and scored 16 goals in 33 points in his Freshman season with North Dakota. In his Sophomore season, Pinto scored 15 goals and 32 points over 28 games. He then inked an entry-level deal with the Sens and jumped right to the NHL. I wouldn’t expect such a rise for Savoie, but doing two years of college and then playing the AHL could be the path.
Regardless of what happens, Savoie is an interesting prospect to follow, which represents a nice change of scenery for the Oilers, who so often punted mid-round picks on players without high-level skill.
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.