With speculation about his future swirling throughout Oil Country, Edmonton Oilers prospect Carter Savoie ended the suspense Monday (April 18) when the Bakersfield Condors signed him to an amateur tryout contract (ATO) for the remainder of the 2021-22 American Hockey League (AHL) season.
The 20-year-old forward is set to join the Oilers’ AHL affiliate club on Thursday (April 21) and could potentially make his Condors debut as early as Friday (April 22) when Bakersfield hosts the Tucson Roadrunners at Mechanics Bank Arena.
Savoie turns pro after two seasons with the University of Denver men’s hockey team, who he helped to capture the NCAA National Championship earlier this month.
Several of college hockey’s biggest stars signed an NHL entry-level contract (ELC) right after the NCAA Frozen Four wrapped up on April 9, including Savoie’s Denver teammate Bobby Brink (Philadelphia Flyers). However, Savoie took more than a week to make his decision, prompting speculation that the Oilers’ promising prospect might elect to return to school for his junior season with the Pioneers.
The ATO does not make Savoie available to the Oilers, who will still have to come to terms on an ELC with the 5-foot-10 left wing. With there being no plans to have Savoie play in the NHL this season, it makes sense for the Oilers to hold off on signing him until the offseason rather than effectively waste the first year of the contract when Savoie would only be watching from the press box.
Savoie will now have a chance to get his feet wet at the professional level and gain some valuable experience should the Condors go on an extended postseason run.
This is just the latest step on his journey to Edmonton that began when the St. Albert product was selected by the Oilers in the fourth round, 100th overall, of the 2020 NHL Draft.
Savoie Shines as a Freshman
Savoie arrived on the University of Denver campus in 2020 with plenty of promise. He was coming off a spectacular 2019-20 season in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) with the Sherwood Park Crusaders, in which he was named a finalist for the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) Forward of the Year award after ranking first and second, respectively, in the AJHL for goals (53) and points (99).
As a freshman with the Pioneers in 2020-21, Savoie notched 13 goals and 20 points in 24 games. He was a unanimous selection to the NCHC (National Collegiate Hockey Conference) All-Rookie Team, received Rookie of the Month honours from both the NCHC and NCAA for December 2020, and won the Barry Sharp Award as Denver’s Freshman of the Year.
Championship Campaign with Denver
This season, Savoie was named to the All-NCHC Second Team, as well as the All-Tournament Team for both the NCAA West Regional and Frozen Four. Appearing in 39 games, the sophomore registered 23 goals and 22 assists, giving him 45 points, sixth-most in the nation.
Savoie was second in NCAA Division 1 with six game-winning goals, including two in the Frozen Four Tournament. He scored in overtime of the National Semifinal against the Michigan Wolverines, propelling Denver into the championship final, where the Pioneers defeated Minnesota State 5-1.
Savoie Has Matured
Savoie’s raw talent has never been a question, but his work ethic has. It’s likely the only reason he was still available for the Oilers to select when their turn came up in the fourth round two years ago.
“There was a time in his career, particularly when he played at the Junior A level before he was selected by the Oilers, where he was viewed kind of as a lazy, one-dimensional, out-of-shape, cheats-for-offense kind of player,” Scott Wheeler, one of the leading reporters on NHL prospects and the draft, said during an appearance on TSN 1260 radio last Thursday (April 14).
“Everybody recognized that he had these incredible gifts as a handler of the puck and especially as a shooter of the puck, and I think without question he was one of the best natural goal scorers in the draft, but there were questions about some of that other stuff.”
Those concerns should no longer exist. Savoie’s made major strides in the areas that require effort, from his two-way game to his fitness level. Combine that now with his hockey gods-given ability to generate goals.
“I think he’s got all of the tools offensively to be a true (first power-play unit) scorer,” Wheeler said. “This is a kid who I had in the late first or early second round in his draft year when he was selected 100th overall, so I’m just a big fan of Carter. Especially his offensive tools, but I also love the progress he’s made defensively.
“You don’t see him fly by pucks or racing up ahead of play to try to and get those breakaways that he used to look for when he played in Junior A,” continues Wheeler. “He really has rounded out his game and shown for an extended period of time now a commitment to that side of the puck and it has made him a tremendous player in college hockey and a lot of fun to watch.”
Oilers Can Take Time With Savoie
It could be a while before Oilers fans see Savoie in a regular role at Rogers Place, and that’s not a bad thing. With the Oilers having their greatest depth at forward in many years, there is no need to rush him to the NHL.
As demonstrated during his time at Denver, Savoie is willing to do what it takes to become a better player. He’ll now have ample opportunity to develop on a strong Bakersfield team that is graduating a lot of players to the NHL. The Oilers won’t recall him before he’s ready, more likely after. And there’s every reason to believe it’s not a matter of if he’ll be ready – just when.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.