Teen phenom Matthew Savoie draws comparisons to Sidney Crosby
14-year-old Albertan may apply for exceptional status to play in WHL
He's only 14 but already Matthew Savoie is drawing comparisons to the likes of NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon.
Trouble is, Savoie isn't eligible for the Western Hockey League bantam draft until May 2019 and even then would be allowed to play just five games during the 2019-20 campaign. That has Savoie's family considering whether to apply for exceptional status.
If granted, Savoie could play the entire 2019-20 season.
"There's been some talk about it," said Savoie's father, Scott.
Scott Savoie is well aware of the risks associated with allowing his son to move away from home and play in the WHL as a 15-year-old. But there's also the consideration of Matthew Savoie's development.
"We still want to challenge him in the game," Scott Savoie said. "So depending on what his skill level is, if that's the next level he needs to get to to be challenged, then you have to take that into account as well."
Playing style mirrors Crosby
The native of St. Albert, Alta., began playing bantam hockey as a 12-year-old last season, competing against 13- and 14-year-olds. He's currently in his second year at the level, having recorded 20 goals and 61 points in 19 games with the Northern Alberta Xtreme.
He kind of plays the same type of style [as Sidney Crosby] where he's so competitive, fights for pucks and is hard on his stick.— ISS Hockey scout Brent Parker on Alberta teen Matthew Savoie
His average of 3.2 points per game is tied for first in the CCSHL Bantam Prep Division.
Brent Parker, a former Regina Pats executive now serving as the head western Canadian scout for ISS Hockey, feels Savoie might've been a top-five selection at last year's WHL draft and would certainly go first overall this year if eligible.
"Because of the way he skates I hate using Sidney Crosby," Parker said. "But he kind of plays the same type of style where he's so competitive, fights for pucks and is hard on his stick.
"I remember watching Nathan MacKinnon in bantam with Shattuck St. Mary's, and there's a little bit of that. I don't think he's quite as explosive a skater as MacKinnon, but he's an awful good skater."
But the WHL isn't Savoie's only option. He could follow his older brother, 15-year-old Carter Savoie, and take the college route. The older Savoie has committed to the University of Denver in November despite being selected by Regina in the 2017 WHL draft.
The Canadian Hockey League has granted exceptional status sparingly.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey league have given it to just one player (Joe Veleno) while the Ontario Hockey League has awarded the distinction to four players, including Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid.
The WHL has never had done so.
"If they apply for it, I'd be shocked if they didn't get it," Parker said. "He's good enough.
"You watch the way he plays and how hard he competes. He's dynamic when he's got the puck on his stick and yet he works hard to get back and play the game at the other end too — there's just not much to not like about the way he plays."
Ahead of the curve
One concern the family has about requesting for exceptional status is the social aspect. Savoie would face some players who are five years older than him but his coach, Tyrel Spitzer, doesn't see that as an issue.
"I would say he's a little bit more advanced than the majority of kids his age," said Spitzer. "Maybe part of that has to do with always playing up [a level] and being around that and seeing that."
Savoie is also ahead of the curve off the ice. The Grade 8 student is already working on Grade 9 classes, which he's expected to wrap up before Christmas.
The five-foot-eight, 150-pound forward tries to model his game after McDavid and is continually looking to improve.
"My stick skills and shot at this point and my communication as well," Savoie said regarding the areas he's looking to get better in.
Playing against older talent has required him to be more focused.
"It's a lot more challenging and it makes you work harder," he said. "Put more effort in."
Savoie's ability to successfully make the jump to midget hockey — and play against 17-year-olds — next season will help the family determine whether to apply for exceptional status.
"If he's one of the top players there then it's always a good measuring stick," said family advisor Kevin Epp. "When you see kids that are a year ahead of you who're going to go play major junior, if you're as good as them and you're younger, then it's kind of like, 'OK well, if there going to play in the WHL, why wouldn't I?' "