“Scouts heavily criticize him off the puck as a player who takes shifts and games off, and as a one-way player.” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic
“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” – Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
Every year there are prospects who fall in the draft for a variety of reasons that confound the experts. Carter Savoie is not actually one of them. The above is a small sample of comments that have been repeated by many in the hockey scouting community. Indeed, the NHL endorsed these comments by allowing Carter Savoie to fall to the Edmonton Oilers at #100 in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
“So, what’s the big deal with that”, you say. The big deal is that 31 NHL teams missed what Carter Savoie can do, and it is the hardest thing in hockey to do, score. To be fair, many in the scouting community, especially Wheeler and Pronman, knew he could score. The question was would other areas of his game prevent him from being able to use that skill at the NHL level. While the returns are early, Carter Savoie has taken steps that should provide encouragement to the Oilers organization.
Does Carter Savoie Just Shoot?
This is a question many ask because of all the legacy commentary around his overall game. The short answer is no, and we will review why below. However, any discussion of Carter Savoie needs to begin with his shot. Carter Savoie has a NHL shot. His release is incredibly quick, first and foremost. In the videos below, you will see that quite often there is little in the way of body movement before the puck is released. Quite often goalies are not ready because Savoie does not provide any queues to them that they should be ready. The shot is also accurate, and it is heavy.
One final note about Savoie’s shot. When I spent the year watching Dylan Holloway in Wisconsin, I got a lot of views of Cole Caufield. I wondered aloud whether shots from distance that went in on NCAA goalies would also go in at the NHL level for Caufield. When I watch Savoie, I think of the same thing. Will this shot below go in on a NHL goalie. With Caufield, it took time, but it is now starting to happen. With Savoie, time will tell.
To say Savoie is just a shooter is unfair to him as a player. One of his best features beside his shot is his hockey sense in the offensive zone. The videos below highlight his ability to slide into areas that go unnoticed by the opposition despite the fact he is well known as a goal scorer. His constant motion makes him very difficult to track let alone mark defensively. Again, hockey is a time and space exercise. Savoie’s ability to use his shot relates a great deal to his ability to create time and space for himself.
Another area where Savoie excels is his compete for the puck. Yes, that is right, he competes for the puck. Most noticeably, Savoie is hard on the puck for offense. Does he have the same intensity defensively? Not yet, but there has been excellent improvement. Still, that shouldn’t diminish his battle level for the puck in the offensive zone. Again, below you see a young man who chases the puck down with determination and when it is turned over, it leads quite often to good results.
Should We Forecast A Calder Trophy For Him Right Now?
Carter Savoie is a plus prospect, but that does not mean there are no challenges. His skating is average especially for someone of his stature. However, it certainly is not fatal. The clip here shows good first two step acceleration and overall, a good skating position. His skates come off the ice a fair distance, but that can be improved with a skating coach. Is he going to beat NHL plus skaters down the ice? Not likely, but his skating will not keep him from the NHL.
The biggest aspect that will challenge Carter Savoie is his willingness to continue to improve as the competition gets better. I never understood the grief he took at the AJHL level. He never had to work very hard at defense because he never really had to play much of it. Was his fitness questionable, certainly. However, those are learned behaviors.
When he went to the NCAA, which is a man’s league, he improved in both years. His fitness was clearly better in his first year. In his second year, his level of commitment to a 200-foot game improved dramatically. For those that question that comment, I offer you the Frozen Four. Coach Dave Carle (who I think has a pro career headed his way) tried to split up his offense by moving Savoie to a second line away from Bobby Brink, the Hobey Baker finalist. What was notable was that it was not Savoie who struggled, it was Brink. Savoie finished the tournament with 3 goals in 4 games and had 16 shots on net including 8 against the Michigan Wolverines. When the Pioneers needed a spark, Savoie was put back with Brink and Brink responded.
What needs to happen at the AHL level? More of the same. The board battles will be harder. The fight to get open position will be harder. The ability to command the puck will be harder. Savoie needs to continue his work to get stronger and more fit. But that is work ethic. It is teachable. It is certainly far more teachable than a NHL ready shot.
Where Does It Project?
In 2010, an undersized scoring winger was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings. He was described as a player with quick release, heavy shot who knew where to go in the offensive zone and had great offensive instincts. He was also described as a player that needed to work on his skating and his defensive game. The player was Tyler Toffoli. Is Carter Savoie going to be a NHL player in the mold of Tyler Toffoli. That determination is ways off, but it is entirely within Carter Savoie’s control, and he has mastered the hardest part already...