Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report: Local Kid Doing Good!

Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report: Local Kid Doing Good!
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Those who follow me know that I have been very critical of the coaching staff in Bakersfield regarding the deployment decisions of the Oiler prospects. I have particularly highlighted issues with all the twenty year old rookies who joined the team this year. However, the player who received the harshest treatment in my opinion was Carter Savoie. Savoie spent most of the season before the Christmas break welded to a fourth line that lacked skill players. He rarely saw the ice on any of the power play rotations. When he made mistakes that were clearly due to inexperience, he helped a much tighter account than others with very limited minutes in games after mistakes and even a healthy scratch. To make matters worse, Savoie started late due to an injury in the prospect tournament in Penticton and missed another season with an injury. Then came the Christmas holidays and everything changed. Plus there’s another German who looks good as an Oiler prospect…wait Maximus Wanner is from Estevan, Saskatchewan. We talk about them all below.

Carter Savoie

Savoie will always be a hot prospect for the Oilers because he was born in St. Albert and had two spectacular seasons with the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the AJHL. So when he started slowly for all the reasons mentioned above, there was a lot of focus. To me, I simply thought he needed to play with more skilled players in more skilled situations. Watching Savoie in the AJHL and at the University of Denver, it was clear that Savoie was not going to be a game-changer. He is a free player who requires others to do more heavy lifting. What Carter Savoie can do is score goals. This week he was lined up with Brad Malone and Xavier Bourgault and also played on the first power play. Guess what happened? Carter Savoie scored. Very. In his last five games, he has scored four goals. Here are each of those goals.

For good measure, here’s a cheeky little field goal he scored in the loss to Tuscon that won’t appear on the scoresheet, but is another illustration of his scoring prowess.

More so, what impressed me this week was Savoie’s commitment to fighting for loose pucks all over the ice. I personally think it was him getting assignments and linemates that helped his confidence. Some people may not like to hear it, but it is a fact of life for many players. Remember, you have a twenty-year-old rookie pro who has battled through a rough first half. The coaching staff gave him a shot in the arm and it led to this kind of response.

However, I want to warn evaluators of Carter Savoie. This is not Dylan Holloway when it comes to control. He’s not a crash and bang, grab hard to the body. He takes a more cautious approach and uses his stick to attack the puck. I think this frustrates people to some extent because it seems lazy, but I don’t think it is. Savoie is actually very effective when, and I emphasize when, he moves his feet to the spots where he can check. See this clip as an example.

Carter Savoie had his best week as a pro. His trainer has really helped his cause. It has been amazing to see.

Maximus Wanner

When a player is drafted in the seventh round, 212th overall, and is described as a big, tall defenseman, you expect to see some plays like these two clips below. A physical player who uses his size and reach to separate players from the puck and then make sure they remember that attacking his side of the ice is not fun.

But in what is becoming a trend with these covid drafts, Maximus Wanner is developing into something far different than when he was drafted. Wanner was a draft pick in 2021 and, at the height of Covid, got to play a total of seventeen games during his draft-eligible year. I say this is a trend because it’s clear that these COVID draft years will bring out some players who far exceed their draft position. Wanner is certainly one of them.

Now I would like to stop here for a moment and explain the concept of transcending your proposed position. I often have people comment “yeah, he’s not going to make it to the NHL anyway.” These people are, in math, mostly right. However, it is very important for an NHL team to have every draft pick above their draft position. That could lead to better minor league competition among prospects, possible spot call-ups when injury is a concern, and useful objects to acquire other assets. For example, what if the Oilers decide they’re happy with their defense on the right side and trade Wanner? If they can land a third-round pick because of his stellar play, that’s a win. It’s not always about making it to the NHL and playing 400 games.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

What has changed with Wanner? Well, Maximus Wanner has developed offense into his game. In his draft-plus year, he had six goals and 17 assists for 23 points in 55 games. This year, he already has eight goals and 21 assists for 29 points in 37 games. For me, watching Wanner the last two seasons, the biggest difference is the skating improvements. Although he always had a long powerful stride, his lateral mobility was awkward. Again, this was likely a function of being young and 6’3″. The first place I saw a noticeable change was at the Young Stars Classic where Wanner was the second best defenseman behind Michael Kesselring. The improved skating has continued this junior year. Here’s a clip below that illustrates his ability to move his skates very quickly from east to west so he can avoid pressure and make plays to create opportunities for his teammates. He does a great job of toeing the line in tight spaces. Has a big pinch that helps his team. Finishes taking a pass and makes a subtle switch to make a pass to a teammate who is open for a shot. This is much improved.

In terms of puck skills, I think people tend to underestimate Wanner. I think he has competent skills for a big, young defenseman. Here’s a clip of his ability to move the puck laterally with ease and then when on the forecheck, win the battle, collect the puck and make a nice pass to a teammate.

The final note, and perhaps my favorite part of Wanner’s game, is his level of competition. This clip shows him winning the puck three times, only for teammates to fail to clear passes from him. He then brings out a chopping net followed by tripping behind the net. So he decides, after a fourth missed clearance, to take matters into his own hands and leave the zone himself.

Now, Wanner has a lot of work to do when he gets to the pro level, but when you watch the full clip below of his OT goal this week, you’ll see what Oilers scouts are no doubt smiling about.

Markus Niemelainen

The big Finn was finally sent down this past week from the Oilers and ended up in two games in Tuscon. This was a much-needed reassignment because 24-year-old prospect defensemen need to play and need to play a lot. For those who are excited about the play by Vincent Desharnais, you should be very excited about Niemelainen. This is another big-bodied, physical defenseman who is a full two years younger than Desharnais. There is plenty of time to develop and given his youth compared to Desharnais, this should excite Oiler fans. Especially considering he’s a 6’6″ defenseman who recently won the Oilers’ fastest skating contest. Now we also saw what Niemelainen needs to work on. Lots of reps handling pucks and creating offense for him and his linemates. This week we have seen some positive steps. First Niemelainen decided to score. He had two of them, both bombs and here they are.

Now, we don’t expect Neemo to challenge McDavid or, more recently, Klim Kostin in terms of scoring prowess. What we want to see him do is continue to improve his puck skills. We saw some good signs here this week. Watch this tight turn and then explosively move up the ice for the exit.

We also saw some of what we saw in Edmonton. Here’s an example of where Nemo really needs to take a breather and work on his patience with the puck. Look at the two lanes he has to make controlled passes and look at what he chooses to do with the puck.

It is this piece that must be eliminated from his game. It is very controllable and he can really excel in passing ability. It just takes more and more reps to develop his confidence. When that happens, you’ll have a left-handed, better-skating, Vinny Desharnais.

Tyler Tullio

Tyler Tullio is starting to figure out the AHL. When he was drafted, I said this is one of the smartest junior hockey players I’ve seen. He has an incredible understanding of plays in all zones before they develop. Again, much like Bourgault and Savoie, he started slowly, but now he’s really coming. What makes this more exciting is that Tullio’s entire game is built around his engine. He’s a smaller player, so beating players to pucks gives him a chance to be effective. Now that he’s figuring out how to play in this league, he can use that motor to great effect. See this clip as an example.

He reads what’s coming and just explodes to the puck. Wins it after taking a crosscheck and establishes zone possession for the Condors. He does this on most of his shifts now.

In terms of scoring, Tullio this week matched his three-point effort from last week. Overall, he has six points in his last five games. This week he scored the OT winner against Tuscon in a great come-from-behind win.

He has found a real connection with Raphael Lavoie and the two have been the hottest combination in Bakersfield. Both have taken significant steps in their prospect development. This week, Tullio had the advantage.

That’s it for this week folks. As always, send me your feedback @bcurlock and thanks for reading.

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