This is a short series on the next group of Oiler prospects graduating to professional hockey. The articles focus on the skills the players have and those where there are opportunities for improvement. The article tries to establish what a successful first year of pro hockey would look like for the player.
When Ken Holland completed one of his best trades sending a 3rd round pick to the San Jose Sharks for a 4th and a 5th round pick in the 2020 NHL draft, it allowed his scouting staff to select two players who both were ranked much higher than where they were taken. The latter of the two picks, Tyler Tullio, we covered here.
The former however is the pick that immediately drew both praise and excitement from Oiler fandom. Carter Savoie, born in St. Albert, Alberta, a mere stone’s throw from the home of the Edmonton Oilers, was heralded as having the potential to be the next home grown Oiler prospect. Savoie added to the excitement having two exceptional collegiate years. In his sophomore year with the University of Denver his team won the NCAA National Championship, with Savoie scoring the winning goal in overtime and being named to the tournament all-star team..
Savoie concluded his NCAA career on that high note when he signed an amatuer tryout contract with the Bakersfield Condors on April 18, 2022. In his brief stint with Bakersfield, he played two regular season games taking relatively regular shifts in a fourth line capacity. While the sample size was small, we were able to gain some takeaways of what is next for Savoie in his development journey to the NHL.
Before reviewing Savoie’s shifts in Bakersfield, we should review what the Edmonton Oilers saw in this prospect when they selected him #100 in the 2020 draft. We published a more detailed article here on the player back in April of 2022 that can be found here.
The brief summary is that Savoie brings an elite shot to the game, one that is certainly NHL level already. Savoie finished his final season at Denver averaging almost 4 shots per game with a 15% shooting percentage. While his shot overshadows everything else, he also has excellent offensive instincts. He also has a pretty good compete level with most of that being in search of offense. The article also summarizes with some video analysis of where Savoie will be challenged to improve his game. His skating, while not poor, will require improvement. His 200 foot compete level will need to be increased. This is a small stature player. He will need to learn how to use his body both to win battles and to protect the puck. He also will need to improve his defensive play and his willingness to put defense first. These are all challenges that will need to be overcome if he wants to become a long term NHL player.
So What Did The Video Show?
We tracked all twenty plus shifts Savoie had in Bakersfield. All but three of the shifts were at 5x5 with the remainder in a PP2 role which we will have a look at below. The video definitely provides some clues of what Savoie needs to work on and what to expect in Bakersfield this year.
In his first game with Bakersfield, Savoie played with Devin Brosseau, a good AHL player with limited offensive capabilities. The centre is Luke Esposito, who could be described in a similar manner to Brosseau. Whether this is the proper use of Savoie (it isn’t) it made sense for the coach to put him in that role to start his career. Nevertheless, let’s review a couple of his shifts in his Condors’ debut.
The first clip is illustrative of a couple of habits that occurred pretty routinely in both games and was part of his game at the University of Denver. Here is the clip at real time:
The clip looks relatively benign because it ended up with nice control in the offensive zone and a potential opportunity. The issue is that the shift could have been much more productive if Savoie had made different tactical choices.
Here is the clip broken up:
The first thing to note before we get to the highlighted items is that early in the shift Savoie takes a poor route once the goalie commits to play the puck to the strong side defender. He turns to the middle of the ice instead of to the boards where there were two potential options for the defender receiving the puck. Savoie’s attention to team tactics was not strong at Denver. I would give him a pass here given it’s his first pro game, but it is something to watch closely.
Now, returning to the clip, the highlighted items are another habit I want to note about Savoie. He rarely uses pivots and stop/start transitions instead relying on slalom turns that make him face the opposite direction of where play is ongoing. The trouble this creates is that his ability to read the play is compromised because he cannot scan the ice easily. He’s looking over his shoulder at everything. Secondly, he cannot react well even if he reads it right because he’s still facing the wrong direction. I would argue that Savoie has a scoring chance on this shift if on the second highlighted part of the clip, he makes a pivot to face up the play and steps down to the net. Brosseau certainly has the puck in control to make a play to the net front. Again, some focus on skating tactics by Savoie will help him and his teammates generate chances.
One other clip from his first game is also illustrative of Savoie’s game. Here is the full clip:
Now it may look like that is a pretty bad shift. Certainly, how the shift ends is not a positive result, but this shift contains some good as well.
Here is the shift again modified:
At the first modification (:17 mark) watch Savoie’s ability to win a puck battle and then handle pressure and even puck protect against a much larger player. This will be a key to Savoie this year is how many board battles does he win and how well can he protect the puck until he scans an option to move the puck to a better space.
The second modification at the (:27 mark) has some good and bad. I like that Savoie is confident enough to hang on to the puck here and try to create a play. The issue is Savoie’s head as the play develops. The defender circled in green clearly reads the switch coming and dives down to defend. Savoie never moves his head to see it and simply tries a play that is certain to be contested. This despite the fact he had space to move to with the puck and even a better switch option up top.
The final modification at the (:37 mark) is that same issue of not using pivots and transitions. Had Savoie transitioned after the pass, he would have remained in the middle of the ice. Most likely the puck comes to him, but at least, he’s in a far better position to react to the counter attack by Abbotsford. Instead, he slaloms and knows immediately that he’s in trouble. He overreacts to the middle after it is too late and now he has a forechecker on his hip with better speed and position. The result is a dash one for Savoie and his teammates.
In Savoie’s second game he spent less time on ice because Bakersfield went with the very uncommon 13F-5D lineup. It led to less looks for all of the forwards. Now on the encouraging side, Savoie had some shifts with Cracknell and Griffith, and while nothing much clicked, it was clear Savoie was more comfortable with offensively minded players who can possess the puck more on a shift. Despite the lack of shifts, there was one clip of a PP2 that I wanted to highlight.
Here is the clip in its entirety first.
Now the shift doesn’t look too bad, and honestly, it has moments. Savoie gets a great look at a one timer and gets beat by the goalie.
Now let’s look at the clip modified:
Another habit Savoie had in college was allowing teammates to take on tasks that he should have been a part of. Notice at the first break (:23 mark), Savoie puts the puck back down in the corner. This creates a 2x2 battle immediately. Instead of joining the battle to try and gain possession, he stays on the outside waiting for the result. Again, what coaches will want to see is him joining these board battles when the situation necessitates and assisting in winning possession.
The second key I want to highlight is look at the lack of movement off the puck by Savoie especially after the :23 mark. He’s going to need to keep working to different lanes and positions to give his teammates options and to avoid being such an easy mark for the defenders. His shot is such a weapon that the slightest gap will be an opportunity for him, but he needs to work off the puck more consistently.
What Are the Goals?
For Savoie, we should focus on a few items that will help determine how he is developing. With any goal scoring prospect, we absolutely want to see volume shooting and a high shooting percentage. In the AHL last year, the top 10 rookie goal scorers had 2.67 shots per game. We will want to see Savoie averaging in that range. We also will want to pay attention to his shooting percentage. In his two college seasons, Savoie shot at approximately 15%. Now a deviation from that could be for a number of reasons, but it should be tracked.
The rest of the expectations are based on the clips above:
- More focus on pivots and transition footwork to avoid losing touch with the play;
- How is he scanning the ice both with and without the puck? He’s got excellent puck skills and if he can better understand reads and then react to them, it will lead to success;
- More attention to detail on team tactics. Understanding and then committing to what he should be doing on each shift, all shift will be very important. Failure to do so will leave the coach with no choice, but to keep him on the bench;
- His ability to be strong on the puck both when he has possession and is trying to protect and also when he is trying to win possession for his team. While smaller in stature, he had a good base to him and he has shown success at doing this in college.
Now what was not mentioned directly was scoring. Certainly, Savoie will need to produce and if he can average .5 pt/g and score 20 goals this year, it will be an excellent start to his pro career. However, the matters that will get him a long career in the NHL have far less to do with his goal scoring prowess that will certainly be on display.