By Carter Brooks
Photo courtesy of Matthew Savoie
One of, if not the greatest 2004-born 15-year-old hockey players in Canada will be suiting up for the Winnipeg ICE in the near future.
On Thursday afternoon, the Western Hockey League's most recently relocated franchise - the Winnipeg ICE (moving from Cranbrook to Winnipeg) - announced the signing of 2019 WHL Bantam Draft first overall selection Matthew Savoie to a standard player agreement, trumping the Albertan's earlier verbal commitment to the NCAA's University of Denver Pioneers.
“Today is an exciting day for the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg ICE franchise,” said Matt Cockell, ICE President and General Manager in a media release Thursday. “Matt is an elite player and we are excited that he has chosen the WHL and Winnipeg ICE to continue his development.”
This WHL player signing/commitment is huge for the ICE, who also came to terms with 2019 second overall bantam selection Conor Geekie just last week, cementing the fourth piece of their four-headed monster (Carson Lambos, second overall in 2018 and Carter Savoie - acquired in an early April 2019 trade) for future success.
Matthew Savoie of St. Albert, AB., spent the past two seasons playing for the Northern Alberta Bantam and X-Treme Prep teams of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound forward racked up an astounding 59 goals and 168 points in 61 regular season games, before collecting four goals and 18 points in nine total playoff contests.
Back in April, the ICE traded three draft picks to the Regina Pats for Matthew's older brother and fellow forward Carter Savoie. The 17-year-old 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 made that early April deal so interesting at the time was the fact that Carter Savoie (along with younger brother Matthew) had verbally committed to play NCAA hockey with the University of Denver, beginning in the 2020-21 season, thus barring the duo from Western League play. Carter Savoie was dealt to Winnipeg for a 2019 fifth-round pick in WHL Bantam Draft, along with two conditional draft picks. One would have to assume the conditions will come into play once Savoie chooses his future route. Having not yet stepped on the ice for the Regina Pats, Carter Savoie is still eligible to take either the NCAA or WHL path to finding hockey success.
Backtracking to May's bantam draft, Winnipeg chose Matthew Savoie with the first overall selection - a move that suggested the braintrust of the ICE believed 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.
Then to select Geekie - a Strathclair product - Winnipeg made a deal with the Swift Current Broncos that saw 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 as well as 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 (Conor Geekie) and a steady shutdown defenceman (Reece Harsch).
Geekie, a 2022 NHL Entry Draft prospect, put up 87 goals and 154 points for the Yellowhead Bantam AAA Chiefs over the past two seasons, collecting 49 goals and 86 points in 2018-19. He is the younger brother of former WHL all-star and current Calder Cup champion with the Charlotte Checkers, Morgan Geekie.
Younger brother Matthew Savoie (who signed with the ICE Thursday) was listed as the consensus number-one WHL Draft selection for the last few months, and a potential top pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. It was immediately following an unsuccessful plea for WHL Exceptional Player Status that Savoie - a knock-on-wood generational talent - opted to head south, maybe as a way of exacting revenge on the Canadian Hockey League and its strategic acceptances/disallowances.
As Thursday's news shows, commitment plans can certainly change, and it appears as though the ICE ownership group had some internal information, leading to the Savoie brother connection in the 'Peg. Giving away a fifth-round selection and a couple conditional picks is not much, but drafting a player first overall, only to see him walk to the NCAA would have been devastating for a team in its first season since relocation. It is safe to say that with Matthew Savoie's commitment Thursday, bigger news from the new honorary Manitobans should be expected in the coming weeks.