One of the surprise standouts in the NCHC’s three-week Pod to open their season was Denver freshman forward Carter Savoie. Savoie was a fourth round draft choice, 100th overall, by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2020 NHL Draft, and had a reputation as a goal-scorer after scoring over 50 goals with Sherwood Park of the AJHL last season.
But few could have expected Savoie to perform as well as he did in the Pod. In 10 games, Savoie scored seven goals and added four assists to lead the Pioneers in scoring. His seven goals ties him for the national lead in goals as well.
I clipped film of each of Savoie’s seven goals in the NCHC to get a better look at what he is doing so well.
Game 1 vs. Minnesota Duluth, 2nd Period 4:00 assisted by Bo Hanson
The play begins here with Denver attempting a long stretch pass out of their zone to Savoie at the far blue line. This isn’t atypical for Denver, who likes to stretch their wings out like that to try and create space in the neutral zone.
Savoie doesn’t handle the pass, but gets a touch on it to negate the potential icing. He doesn’t go really strong into the corner and gets knocked over, but gets enough of a stick on the puck to deflect it to a teammate. He provides minimal support as they battle, and UMD wins the puck, but turns it over with a weak clearing attempt up the boards that is intercepted at the point.
Savoie works to the front of the net and gets in good position in line with the shot, turns his body, and is able to get a tip on the puck on his backhand side, which beats the goalie for the goal. There’s not a lot to this goal, but some good hand-eye coordination to get a stick on that shot.
Game 2 vs. North Dakota, 1st Period 11:05 assisted by Bobby Brink and Mike Benning(power play)
Savoie makes a nice play to gain zone entry on the power play here, faking inside, then getting around the defenseman to the outside well enough that he is able to get the puck deep into the zone, then wins a board battle to establish possession for Denver inside the zone. After establishing possession he retreats to his position on the left wing of the power play.
One of the first things to notice is how high in the zone Savoie sets up here. Denver is running a 1-3-1 power play set-up here, with Mike Benning(20) at the top, three forwards line up across the tops of the circles, and a forward in front of the net. But as you see here, Savoie is basically at the blue line when he takes a pass from Benning.
There are a couple reasons for this. Normally, a team would have a right shooting player in that position so they could set-up for a quick one-timer off a pass from Benning. But because Savoie is a left shot, things are a little different. Setting up higher allows him time to skate towards the net and set up for a shot, while still being in position to fire a cross-ice pass if he sees a passing lane open up.
He forces a shot, but look at the way he draws three of the four defenders on the ice to him, leaving lots of opportunity for a teammate to retrieve the loose puck.
Denver ends up with a good shot by Benning off the deflection, though it is saved. Denver retrieves the puck, and once again Savoie retreats to his position almost at the blue line.
This is the other advantage to Savoie playing so high in the offensive zone. He has the ability to keep the play in front of him and show up at the right spot at the right time, rather than showing up too early and taking himself out of the play.
The play develops on the right side while Savoie hangs out in no man’s land waiting for his opportunity. The North Dakota defense is forced to collapse, and Bobby Brink makes an excellent pass to a wide open Savoie for the easy goal.
Game 2 vs. North Dakota, 3rd Period 17:08 assisted by Mike Benning and Magnus Chrona (power play)
This play starts with a terrific zone entry by Mike Benning, weaving his way into the North Dakota zone then pulling up as he crosses the blue line.
Savoie trails the play. On Denver’s power play breakout, Savoie and Bobby Brink trail behind Benning and if North Dakota drops all four defenders back, Benning will leave a drop pass for one of the forwards. If North Dakota sends one forechecker, as they do here, Benning just gains the offensive zone himself.
So when Benning pulls up inside the offensive blue line, that means Savoie is coming behind him with speed, ready for a pass.
Savoie makes handling the pass from Benning look way easier than it is. He takes it off his skate and gets it to his stick cleanly without having to give up any speed. He doesn’t overhandle the puck, keeping it in shooting position until he gets an angle he likes and fires a wicked wrist shot for the goal. That’s a real goal scorer’s goal.
Game 3 vs. St. Cloud State, 1st Period 3:51 assisted by Kohen Olifschefski and Mike Benning (power play)
This play starts similar to Savoie’s first power play goal against North Dakota earlier. Savoie gains the zone wide, and takes the puck below the goal line, before forcing it around the boards to a waiting winger.
Savoie starts in his normal spot on the left side, but as the play develops, Bobby Brink takes the puck behind the net—a set play Denver has which plays to Brink’s skillset—which forces a switch of sides between Savoie and Brink, putting Savoie on the right side.
Savoie takes a pass from Benning on the right side and skates in. The St. Cloud State defender doesn’t come out to force Savoie at all, letting him skate to the face-off dot to get off his shot.
Savoie shoots the puck in stride off his inside leg and absolutely wires the puck into the upper corner on the short side.
Game 4 vs. North Dakota, 3rd Period 17:58 assisted by Cole Guttman and Brett Stapley
Off a regroup situation, this is another example of Savoie picking his spots really well. As the puck gets reset, he basically does a half-circle around the center ice circle to help himself build up speed behind the puck so that as he enters the zone, he is able to catch the pass from Guttman at almost full speed.
From there, he shows off a lightning quick shot release that is perfectly placed in the upper corner of the net, giving the goalie no chance.
Game 5 vs. Miami, 1st Period 18:58 assisted by Mike Benning and Cole Guttman
There’s a lot of stuff that goes wrong for Miami here, as much as right for Denver. The RedHawks make a bad line change and mix up their coverage in the defensive zone leading to all three defenders going after the puck carrier, and more criminally, none of them actually stopping him.
This results in a 3-on-1 for Denver, with Savoie as the third man, trailing the play. A pass across gets deflected, but Savoie is there to jump on the loose puck and smack it past the goalie for the goal.
Game 10 vs. St. Cloud State, 2nd Period 8:35 assisted by Cole Guttman
Denver just throws the puck off the boards to get it out of their zone. As mentioned earlier, Savoie’s job on the breakout is to stretch the ice, so he is nearly at the far blue line. He skates back into the play and forces the defender that picks up the puck to make a bad pass.
Guttman picks up the puck leading to a transition opportunity, and because of the quick turnover, Savoie is able to get inside positioning on the SCSU defender, leading to a mini-2-on-1 opportunity.
Guttman makes a nice saucer pass to Savoie, and Savoie once again underhandles the puck, moving from backhand to forehand for a quick shot release that beats the goal over the glove side.
Early on in the Pod, I said Savoie was a bit of a niche player. He doesn’t really drive possession. He doesn’t create a lot of scoring chances for his teammates. But if you’re going to be limited in what you do, you better be really good at those things. And I think Savoie shows the potential to be an elite goal-scorer.
Looking through all seven of his goals, there aren’t a lot of cheapies in there. He certainly benefits from seeing prime power play time with some really good players, but on most of his goals, he’s showing off the type of elite skills you’d expect from a good NHL player.
Obviously the shot is terrific. He can shoot it with pace and accuracy. But pretty much everybody at this level can shoot the puck hard, and most can do it with decent accuracy, given the time and space. I was more impressed with some of the things he did to get himself in position to take those shots.
Just in this relatively small sample size, we see some big-time skills, like taking a pass in his feet and controlling it in stride, shooting in stride off his inside foot, and underhandling a puck to get a quick shot off. It’s those little plays that get him into a position to use his shot more often than other players.
But more than just the skills, Savoie shows some exceptional scoring instincts as well. He’s got great sense and timing to keep the play in front of him and then show up at the right place at the right time to get the puck in scoring position. It’s something that is easier said than done.
Again, looking at the way he scored these goals, I don’t think his hot start was a fluke. If he can continue to score this way at the college level, he may develop into a rare late-draft find for the Edmonton Oilers.