The National Hockey League Central Scouting mid-term ratings for the 2022 entry draft, scheduled for July 7 and 8 in Montreal, have been released. And near the very top of the list for North American skaters are Winnipeg Ice teammates Matt Savoie and Conor Geekie, who are ranked third and fourth, respectively.
Two other Ice players have also been included in those rankings as forward Mikey Milne is listed 80th while Defenseman Maximilian Streule is rated 214th among North American skaters.
Savoie turned 18 on New Year’s Day, ironically the last time the Ice played before going into a COVID-related week-long pause. The five-foot-nine-inch, 178-pound centre was held off the scoresheet for only the sixth time in 34 games in Winnipeg’s 6-1 win at Medicine Hat that night, but still leads all Western Hockey League scorers with 18-34-52 totals.
The number one pick in the 2019 WHL bantam draft is used to being in the spotlight, and while he is proud of the the recognition, it’s not something he’s going to hang his hockey helmet on.
“I personally don’t put much attention into a ranking and stuff like that,” said Savoie via a phone interview following a Winnipeg team practice on Wednesday. “But with social media you’re definitely going to see it, so I take it as a positive.”
Savoie has learned to deal with media attention from a young age, but this time around he has someone he can share that experience with in Geekie.
“It’s awesome to have a teammate, and a real good friend kinda going through the same thing I am right now,” said the St. Albert native. “It’s just nice to have a guy you can talk to, you know? We have conversations about it just to see where each other are at and make sure each other are staying dialed in and keeping the pressure off of each other.”
Also playing a main role in that process is Ice head coach James Patrick, who says Savoie and Geekie are completely different types of players — but both with bright futures.
“Matt is a kid who has scored at every level, played in the top leagues and has been a top end kid and top scorer. He is extremely explosive, he’s got real quick hands, a real strong core and lower body, but he’s got high end skills,” was how Patrick described Savoie’s main assets.
And then the veteran Winnipeg coach was asked for his assessment of Geekie, a six-foot-four-inch, 205-pound centre from Strathclair, Man., who is among the WHL’s top 20 scorers with 11-27-38 in 34 games.
“He is going to be that six-foot-four, 225-pound centre that teams love having. A big guy who is hard to play against and can also play against anyone,” said the former defenceman who played 20 plus NHL season with the New York Rangers, Hartford Whalers, Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres.
“He’s a big body, I wouldn’t call him an elite skater. He’s a good skater with an elite snapshot. Loves playing the game and is very confident on the ice. Can be a bit irritating to his opponents.”
And Patrick feels Geekie, whose older brother Morgan is playing for the expansion Seattle Kraken after breaking in professionally with Carolina, has the potential to improve his draft ranking before the final ratings are released in the spring.
“If I look at Conor’s year, there has been a lot of development. At times two or three steps forward and then takes a step back,” said Patrick. “The last three weeks that we played against Eastern Division opponents, no one has played better. If he keeps playing the way he played the last three weeks, he’ll be a top-10 pick, that’s my belief.”
Patrick feels one of the reasons Savoie and Geekie are ranked where they are — behind only fellow centres Shane Wright of OHL Kingston and Logan Cooley of the US National Development Program’s under 18 team among North American skaters — is because of the extra responsibilities they have on a night in and night out basis for the Ice.
“A lot of times in this league, 17 year olds — if they are lucky — get to play third line matchups. And we haven’t had that this year. Both of them have played top six so they have to play against the other team’s top players,” said Patrick.
“You know, when we go to Brandon, one of those two guys is playing against Ridley Greig, who is a really good player. And I think they’ve gotten better from those experiences.”
And never being satisfied is the calling card of any elite player. So while Savoie feels his offensive instincts, elusiveness with the puck and skating all factor on the plus side of his game, he credits Patrick and assistant coach Josh Green with always pushing him to work on areas that need improvement.
“Defensive zone positioning, where I can be to be a better outlet for our defensemen. And faceoffs,” said Savoie when asked to share some of those items on his daily to do list.
“I’ve worked a lot with our assistant coach, Josh Green. Just after practice our centremen all come in and we sometimes have a little tournament, work on faceoffs — trying to learn things off each other.”
Another part of that education process is focusing first on being 200-foot players, something Patrick says Savoie and Geekie are also adding to their portfolios this season.
“We’re adamant you have to play defence first and you have to be able to play both ends of the ice,” explained Patrick. “Both of them have been on the ice when we have a one-goal lead and the other team has pulled their goalie.
“You have to remember that both of these guys are 17 and playing against 19 and 20 year olds which is how it works in this league. And that makes it tough when their opponents are certainly ready for them.”