By Carter Brooks
Photo courtesy of the CSSHL
An early morning snowfall set the stage for an interesting beginning to the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft in Red Deer, AB. Thursday.
With the recently relocated Winnipeg ICE holding the first overall selection in the yearly spectacle, on top of the fact that Winnipeg traded three draft picks to the Regina Pats for forward Carter Savoie (brother of recent CHL Exceptional Status applicant), many figured the opening round of the 2019 WHL Draft would be interesting, but no one knew just how exciting it would be for Manitobans.
As many anticipated, the Winnipeg ICE chose Matthew Savoie with the first overall selection - a move that suggests the braintrust of the ICE believes they will be able to help sway the decision of both Savoie brothers to nix their verbal agreement with the NCAA's Denver University, and play out their junior hockey careers in Manitoba.
If that's not excitement enough, news broke shortly after the first selection that Winnipeg had made a deal with the Swift Current Broncos that would see the ICE acquire the third overall selection. Winnipeg traded its ninth overall and 24th overall selection in the 2019 draft along with 2020 second and fifth round selections in exchange for pick number three and 20-year-old defenceman Reece Harsch.
Immediately after that announcement, the ICE sent that third overall pick along with a 2020 third round selection to Prince George for the number two pick in the current draft. When all was said and done, Winnipeg gave up two 2019 first round picks, a 2019 second round pick, a 2020 second round pick, a 2020 third round pick and a 2020 fifth round pick for the second overall selection and a steady shutdown defenceman.
With the second overall pick, the Winnipeg ICE chose locally, selecting Strathclair product Conor Geekie. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound 14-year-old has put up 87 goals and 154 points for the Yellowhead Bantam AAA Chiefs over the past two seasons, collecting 49 goals and 86 points last year. He is the younger brother of former WHL all-star and current Charlotte Checker Morgan Geekie.
After seeing their provincial rival get involved in all the fun, the Brandon Wheat Kings decided that making a trade of their own would be an appropriate course of action for the morning. So they shipped Sean Comrie and their 10th overall selection to to Kelowna for the right to choose at the No. 5 spot. The Wheat Kings used that pick to take Red Deer product Nate Danielson fifth overall.
Back on the clock for the sixth selection, Brandon went to the Manitoba well and chose local product Tyson Zimmer of Russell. The Wheat Kings' next pick came at No. 16, where Rylen Boersma of Alberta was chosen, to wrap up Brandon's productive opening round of the Bantam Draft. The second round also saw an early trade from Brandon, as the Wheat Kings acquired the 23rd overall selection from the Red Deer Rebels in exchange for 2019 second and fourth round picks. Brandon took Boissevain product Zach Turner.
Alongside the trades involving Manitoba-based teams, one other significant deal occurred in the opening round, as Winnipegger Jett Woo was dealt from the Moose Jaw Warriors to the Calgary Hitmen. The Warriors received a package of players and picks for Woo's services including the 11th overall selection (Denton Mateychuk), Vladislav Yeryomenko, Ryder Korczak and a 2021 second round pick.
More background on recent Winnipeg ICE acquisitions Carter and Matthew Savoie:
Carter Savoie, the 17-year-old St. Albert, AB. product spent the past year with the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he earned the league's Rookie of the Year award, as well as being named to the All-Rookie and the North Division's All-League Teams.
With the Crusaders, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound speedster led the team with 31 goals and 73 points in 58 regular season games. He finished the season fifth in league scoring, averaging 1.26 points-per-game. In 10 playoff games, Savoie has two goals and 10 points - also sitting atop his team.
What makes this trade interesting is the fact that Savoie is committed to play NCAA hockey with the University of Denver in the 2020-21 season. He was dealt for a 2019 fifth-round pick in WHL Bantam Draft, along with two conditional draft picks. One would have to assume the conditions would come into play once Savoie chooses his future route. Having not yet stepped on the ice for the Regina Pats, Savoie is still eligible to take the NCAA path to hockey success.
Adding to the mix is that the Winnipeg ICE held the very first selection in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft, in which they used to choose Carter's younger brother Matthew - who had been listed as the consensus number-one selection for the last few months. Following an unsuccessful plea for WHL Exceptional Player Status, Matthew, much like his brother has also recently announced his commitment to the NCAA's University of Denver.
Commitment plans can certainly change, and it appears as though the ICE ownership group have some internal information, leading to a possible Savoie brother connection in the 'Peg. However, giving away a fifth-round selection and a couple conditional picks is not much, drafting a player first overall, only to see him walk to NCAA could be devastating for a team in its first season since relocation. It is safe to say that the Winnipeg Ice and the Savoie family will certainly be having some important conversations in the coming weeks.