Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 30/4/2019 (470 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Matthew Savoie could be the second coming of Sidney Crosby, but the more immediate question remains: will the gifted 15 year old be bringing his talents to Winnipeg?
On March 18, the five-foot-nine, 172-pound Northern Alberta X-treme centre made a verbal commitment to attend the University of Denver on a hockey scholarship beginning in 2021-22, but was that a negotiating ploy or a firm decision?
The Western Hockey League's Ice, relocating to Winnipeg from Cranbrook, B.C., in time for next season, would like to make Savoie the No. 1 pick in Thursday's bantam draft and add him to their lineup in 2020-21.
Savoie's decision came after he was turned down by Hockey Canada for exceptional status in the Western Hockey League, which would have allowed him, as a 15 year old, to play more than the age-restricted five games in major-junior.
He's expected to be a high first-round draft pick anyway; he could play five games and then return to his midget-level team in Alberta.
To that end, the Ice management team brought Savoie, his father and 17-year-old brother Carter from Edmonton for a fact-finding visit in mid-April. The tour included a trip to the Rink Hockey Academy's spacious new facility, which will serve as the permanent base for the WHL club's practices and off-ice training.
"That's correct, and I would just add to that it's a normal part of the process," Ice president and GM Matt Cockell said Tuesday.
"It's very common for players that we would be evaluating, whether it's first (overall) or anywhere near the top of the draft to meet the family and meet with the player and certainly have an opportunity to get to know them a little bit and vice versa. We've had the opportunity to do that with Matt and his family, as we have with every other player that we would be looking at for the top half of our draft."
What's more, Winnipeg recently acquired Carter Savoie's rights from the Regina Pats. The 17-year-old left-winger and Alberta Junior Hockey League rookie of the year is also a highly regarded junior prospect and the Ice are hoping the make the brothers a package deal. The older sibling has also committed to play hockey at Denver.
"Matt's case is and was a little bit unique because he's committed to Denver in the NCAA and we had just acquired Carter's rights recently," said Cockell. "Carter wouldn't have been a player we could talk to prior because, obviously, he was a member of the Regina Pats. It was timely in the sense that we were able to spend some time with them."
Matthew Savoie is one of five likely first-round 2004-born WHL prospects to have committed to an NCAA school. That list also includes forward Rieger Lorenz of Calgary (Denver), forward Bowden Singleton of Edmonton (University of North Dakota), defenceman Mats Lindgren of Vancouver (Michigan) and forward Connor Levis of Vancouver (Michigan).
"If you look at previous drafts, sometimes there tends to be verbal commitments that happen," said Cockell. "Last year there were a couple as well and every player taken in the first round signed. It's important to do your homework and I think a real important thing for any organization — and it's a high priority for us — is fit and culture.
"Those are things that we're evaluating in addition to players and families getting to know you a little bit. At the end of the day, you want to take best player and you also want to make sure you have the best fit for the organization."
If Savoie is unwilling to commit to the Ice, it may be that Strathclair's Conor Geekie, a 14-year-old centre who played with the Yellowhead AAA bantams in 2018-19, could be a better fit for Winnipeg.
The 6-3, 175-pounder is the No. 2 prospect on many draft boards.
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"If he's in the top three, normally, you'd know before the draft, but as of right now, we have no idea," said Craig Geekie, Conor's father and a former WHL defenceman, whose sons Morgan and Noah were chosen in previous WHL drafts.
The elder Geekie said he would prefer Conor go to a team in Manitoba or Saskatchewan, which he said, "Would be ideal if he plays as a 16-year-old."
Cockell, meanwhile, refused to tip his hand.
"I think we'll continue to use all the time that we have up until the draft and we'll make a good decision," he said.
Mike Sawatzky Sports Reporter
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.