Red Wings Draft Targets: Matthew Savoie

The Hockey Writers

Heading into the 2022 NHL Draft, the Detroit Red Wings seem to be in a position to draft a forward with the eighth overall selection. They have plenty of defensive prospects, highlighted by last year’s sixth overall pick Simon Edvinsson, and their goaltender of the future, Sebastian Cossa, is doing his thing in the Western Hockey League (WHL) this season. With the graduation of Lucas Raymond and Joe Veleno this season, the Red Wings have Jonatan Berggren as their top forward prospect, but beyond him is a list of forwards that project to be second line forwards at best. Furthermore, they lack a prospect that projects to be a top-six or even top line center at the NHL level, and that’s a hole that has persisted since Dylan Larkin graduated back in the fall of 2015.

Related: Red Wings 2022 Draft Coverage

Luckily for general manager Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings, the 2022 draft class features a handful of center prospects that have top line potential, and at least a couple of them should be available when the Red Wings are on the clock to make their pick. One such prospect is one that has been ranked within the top-10 of this year’s draft class since the start of this season, but his stock has taken a slight hit as others have seen theirs rise.

That player is Matthew Savoie. He is my favorite player in this draft class, and if he’s still on the board when the Red Wings are up, there should be little to no hesitation.

Yzerman’s plan for rebuilding the Red Wings seems to be centered around adding size and skill on the blue line while also adding forwards with a healthy balance of speed and skill. In Savoie, you have a prospect whose speed and footwork may be the only tool of his that rivals his overall skill level. With and without the puck, he possesses the ability to blow by defenders and drive towards the net, which he does on a fairly regular basis. When he leads the breakout through the neutral zone, he attacks with speed, hoping to either create a two-on-one or a semi-breakaway for himself. One of the things that really stands out about his game is how he’s able to make plays while at top speed, whether it’s a one-touch pass or a one-timer.

Matthew Savoie Winnipeg ICE
Matthew Savoie of the Winnipeg ICE (Zachary Peters)

For a player that stands at just 5-foot-9 and 179 pounds, Savoie plays the type of game you would hope from a player of that stature. He drives towards the inside of the zone, looking to get shots off from the slot. When he doesn’t go there himself, he’s looking to feed the puck to that area so his teammates can get off a quality chance. He isn’t afraid to take a hit to make a play, and he’s willing to go to the dirty areas of the ice. While I wouldn’t call him a physical player, I would call him a fearless one.

Savoie prefers to be a playmaker from the center position, but he possesses a lethal shot as he’s able to get it off quickly with above-average accuracy. If defenders afford him space and time, he is going to burn them. He also is very smart with his shot selection, often looking to unload a shot when there’s traffic in front of the goalie, increasing the likelihood of the shot doing some damage. He opens up passing and shooting lanes using a combination of his footwork and stick skills, and his sky-high offensive IQ allows him to find open teammates and hit them with a tape-to-tape pass.

Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide

When Savoie competed at the CHL Top Prospects Game last month, they ran a combine to test the player’s physical abilities, such as their ability to skate with and without the puck. He placed first in every category that involved skating with the puck, and he finished as the highest-rated forward overall, placing ahead of presumptive top pick Shane Wright. Simply put: there is seemingly nobody else in this draft class that can handle the puck at top speed as well as Savoie can.

Savoie had the seventh-best points total in the Western Hockey League (WHL) this season while playing for a talented Winnipeg ICE team (90 points in 65 games). Through eight games in the playoffs (so far), he has 10 points, with six of them being goals. He produces no matter the stage, and defenders have to respect him whenever he’s on the ice. He is an elite offensive talent that is exciting to watch, and he’s only going to get better as he develops further.

Work in Progress

As a high-flying offensive talent, it almost seems natural that defense isn’t exactly his calling card. The reason he doesn’t rank closer to a player like Wright is because Savoie’s game is not as well-rounded as others in this draft class.

While he is not clueless in the defensive zone, he often cheats toward the top of the zone, hoping that his defenders spring him on the attack so he can turn on the jets. He is never going to win a Selke Trophy in the NHL simply due to his lack of attention to detail in the defensive zone. While I think this is a highly coachable part of his game, his defensive IQ simply isn’t near as high as his offensive IQ. Once he reaches the NHL, he’ll probably learn very quickly what he can and can’t get away with in the defensive zone, so I wouldn’t necessarily worry about him forming bad defensive habits. A good development plan for him would be to make him serviceable in the defensive zone without dulling down any of his offensive explosivity.

But defense is not the reason a player like this could still be on the board when the Red Wings are picking at eight. Measuring by skill and potential alone, Savoie is hands down a top-five player in this draft. What gives other players a figurative leg up is his lack of size. Until he proves he can do at the NHL level what he does at the Junior level, there will always be questions about whether or not his size will inhibit him. If Detroit wants to add a forward with size, he isn’t it. There are multiple smaller forwards in the NHL that Savoie could model himself after, and one of them is actually THE player I think of when I watch him play.

Matthew Savoie, Dubuque Fighting Saints
Matthew Savoie, Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Last, but not least, there is also some question about whether or not Savoie will be a center at the NHL level. He has spent some time on the right wing over the course of this season, and even when he plays down the middle, he plays like a winger. His small stature opens him up to get bullied in the faceoff circle, and his defensive game isn’t strong enough to take on the responsibilities that playing down the middle in the NHL entails. Like his defensive game, however, this is something that his coaches can work with him on, even if it means he starts his NHL career on the wing. Remember, even Larkin spent a season on Henrik Zetterberg’s wing before making the transition to the center position.

NHL Readiness

I believe Savoie could push hard for an NHL roster spot as soon as next season. He is as dynamic a player as there is in this draft class, and he already has projectable offensive habits that lead me to believe he could produce at the NHL level right away. However, with his defensive game still needed as much work as it does, I believe he needs another season in the WHL before he makes his NHL debut.

Another season in Juniors would allow Savoie to focus on the areas of his game that need work while also feasting on opposing defenses while playing for one of the best teams in the WHL. If the American Hockey League was an option for him, I think that would be the best fit for his development, but it’s either the WHL or the NHL for him next season. After another year at the Junior level, he should arrive in the Fall of 2023 hungry and confident – a lethal combination for a player like him.

Savoie’s Fit with the Red Wings

In my opinion, Savoie is the most exciting player in this draft class. At his peak, he’s going to be a player that puts fans in seats, and then brings them up out of them when he hits the ice. While “Hockeytown” is understandably excited about this season’s rookie duo of Raymond and Moritz Seider, the Red Wings do not currently have a player on their team that is as fun to watch as Savoie is. This is a player you can market.

If he was drafted by the Red Wings, I believe Yzerman would project him to develop into a player similar to Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point, a player Yzerman drafted while he was GM of the Lighnting. Both players are small in stature, but both can make big plays in big moments, play a game that can translate on the wing or down the middle, and create opportunities for themselves and their teammates. Yzerman knows the roadmap that turned Point into a Stanley Cup-winning top center, and I have zero doubts that a similar development plan would be in place for Savoie.

Long story short, Savoie could easily become the Red Wings’ top center in three or four years, depending on his development. That is the exact type of forward prospect that Detroit should be looking for with their first pick.

Best Player Available

I’ve been doing this “draft targets” series here at THW since the 2020 draft. Usually this section is dedicated to debating whether or not the player in question would be the best player available at the Red Wings’ pick. This is the first time, however, that I have the utmost confidence that the player in question would be the best in player available if he’s still on the board at eighth overall. Savoie should be a top five pick in this draft, and if the seven teams picking ahead of Detroit pass on him, the Red Wings should not hesitate.

Other Quotes

“While he has been known to pass more often than shoot (possibly too much at times), his wrist shot is hard and accurate, which just adds to the threat he already is on the power play. Special teams are where he’s going to generate most of his points in the NHL, but he will have to continue to develop his game at even strength in order to maximize his potential when he gets there.” – Matthew Zator, The Hockey Writers

“The ICE haven’t needed Savoie to put pucks in the net at a frequent pace. But with the way he’s playing now, there’s no question he could realistically hit 50 next year if he doesn’t make the NHL immediately.” – Steven Ellis, The Hockey News

“Savoie is a very talented scorer. He stands out with the puck on his stick and can attack in a variety of ways. Savoie is an excellent passer, who can run a power play, hit seams at a high rate and make tough plays under duress. He has very good hands to maneuver in traffic. He has good speed to beat opponents wide and he has a shot that can score from range.” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic (from “The 2022 NHL Draft ranking: Pronman’s top 29 prospects at the draft lottery”, The Athletic, 5/10/22)

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