This week’s article continues our focus on tournaments in recent weeks. As a scouting organization working its way toward our final ranking and draft guide in June, tournaments can play an important role. They can allow observers to assess players outside of their league play and evaluate their performance against peers. The World Junior A Challenge, currently underway in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, is an opportunity for a couple of notable prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft who are making an impression outside of the powerful CHL leagues in Canada. Vince Gibbons reports on Carter Savoie and Michael Benning who are both appearing for Canada West and play together on Sherwood Park in the AJHL, the league that gave us Cale Makar in the 2017 draft. Look for full reports and scouting from the tournament at www.mckeenshockey.com in the coming weeks.
We are gearing up for the publication of our McKeen’s IIHF World Junior Guide magazine, available in digital form with a subscription to McKeen’s. In this week’s article Mike Sanderson provides notes on players from the QMJHL who look to figure prominently for Team Canada. Brock Otten from our team will be attending the Team Canada training camp in Oakville this week and reporting for us on the site. Brock will also be profiling Team Canada for the magazine. We will provide further notes next week on his observations as well as notes on other countries as rosters come into focus. Our Prospects Director, Ryan Wagman will be profiling the United States and providing a tournament overview, Jimmy Hamrin will handle Sweden, Marco Bombino, Finland and Alessandro Seren Rosso, Russia. We will cover all ten teams along with other features.
Enjoy this week’s article. The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
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2020 NHL Draft prospects
Michael Benning, D, Sherwood Park Crusaders, 5’9”, 180 lbs
2019 Stats: seven goals, 33 assists in 27 games for Sherwood Park (AJHL)
Carter Savoie, LW, Sherwood Park Crusaders, 5’9”, 190 lbs
2019 Stats: 30 goals, 21 assists in 27 games for Sherwood Park (AJHL)
The AJHL is often an overlooked league in North America in terms of draft eligible talent. So much of the Western Canadian youth funnels into the WHL that unless a player has a real education driven focus about their sports participation the league doesn’t appeal compared to the exposure you get in the WHL. This year one team and two high end players are changing the script. Carter Savoie and Michael Benning are both playing in the Edmonton suburb of Sherwood Park. Together they have been must watch hockey in Alberta moving the league to the forefront of any scouting trip through the West. Eyes are on these two to be much more than depth picks next June, but actually garnering first round attention.
Carter Savoie is an offensively gift forward who can beat you a number of ways. He has a great shot, is an excellent passer and can slow the game down when he is on the puck. He controls the offensive zone very well and his movement to open ice makes him a target for teammates with the puck. He also can beat players one on one with his puck handling on the rush. While being undersized he plays with a lot of grit and stands up for himself when teams try to take advantage of his size. He is great at transitioning the puck into the offensive zone usually carrying it in and making a smart pass. The biggest question surrounding his game is, “how good will his skating be at the next level?”
Michael Benning is a no stranger to the spotlight having grown up in a hockey family. Both his uncle and father played several seasons in the NHL with Uncle Jim being the current GM of the Vancouver Canucks. Even his older brother Matt has 200 NHL games already under his belt. Michael does the family proud (34 points in just 27 games). His production this year far exceeds that of Matt in his draft year. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Michael is how he manages the offensive blue line. His movement and positioning are excellent which enables him to make timely pinches and continue the cycle game. He also has soft hands that he uses to take advantage of a slow defensive rotation to drive the net and improve his shooting position. He is very successful at getting the shot through the first wave of defenders.
On the rush he is constantly pushing himself to get into the play and makes himself available as a trailer on a lot of plays by out hustling the opposition. Defensively there is a lot to like but plenty of room to improve. He battles hard in front of his net and is very deceptive when closing his gaps, which creates plenty of neutral zone turnovers. He is undersized but can handle himself and doesn’t shy away from physical contact even though he is not a big open ice hitter.
Both Benning and Savoie lead a pretty respectable group of young draft eligible players from the AJHL and could be the next two taken out of the West after previously discussed Connor Zary (Kamloops) (see earlier article here) is off the board. - Vince Gibbons, WHL
Prospects in the News
QMJHL figures prominently on Team Canada’s World Junior Team
Team Canada features six Q hopefuls for the big dance at the end of the month across the pond. A seventh, Calgary first rounder Jakob Pelletier, will be skipping out due to injury. With 31 players set to compete for roster spots, competition is always fierce and that is no exception this time around.
In goal, many are giving the edge to Pelletier’s teammate and Edmonton draft pick Olivier Rodrigue, one of four netminders chosen for consideration. Rodrigue has previous experience wearing the maple leaf, including at the under-17 and under-18 levels, and that comfort level always plays a role with Team Canada for this tournament, rightly or wrongly. Rodrigue has also been as sharp as ever, performing at a high level for a contending Moncton Wildcats team.
Only one blueliner figures in from the Q for Team Canada, and that is returning defender Jared McIsaac. It’s difficult to get a read on the Detroit second rounder as he has only just returned from off-season surgery. He has two assists in three games since coming back from injury, and played into May last season with the Memorial Cup host Halifax Mooseheads. While playing through injury for much of the season last year, McIsaac put up 62 points in the regular campaign and another 16 in the playoffs. He is a controlling, two-way shutdown defender who does everything well.
Up front, two draft-eligible forwards feature with wunderkind Alexis Lafrenière and riser Dawson Mercer. Lafrenière has been excellent with the Oceanic this year and is the projected first overall pick by many, as well as a returning player to Team Canada, already cracking the 70-point plateau in 32 games. (You can read an earlier article from October on Lafreniere here.
Mercer is a workhorse winger who can play up and down the lineup and could make this squad for his abilities to play any role. He has shown he can play with talented players and mesh well, and he can score too, with 18 goals on the season and 42 points in 26 games.
The two youngsters will be boosted with the presence of a pair of Mooseheads in Anaheim’s Benoît-Olivier Groulx and Raphael Lavoie. Groulx is a hockey player’s hockey player; he thinks the game at the highest level, and can do all the little things effectively. Lavoie is the big scoring winger with the long reach and the knack for coming up big in big moments. Both players have over 40 points on the season.
Lastly, while he’s not a Q player anymore, the Detroit Red Wings have announced that former Saint John Sea Dog and Drummondvile Voltigeur Joe Veleno will be loaned to Canada for the tournament. Veleno is a strong finesse player who can play both ends of the ice and can perform brilliance offensively at high speed. He also has experience as a captain with this age group, and as a pro player, that will give him a further edge. He had two points in five games for Canada last year. – Mike Sanderson, QMJHL