By Nick Malmstrom
Matthew Savoie, a Canadian center for the Winnipeg Ice of the Western Hockey League (WHL), tops our 2022 Preliminary DraftPro list of WHL prospects.
Savoie (5 foot 9, 178 pounds) is a dynamic right-handed center that possesses an elite skating ability. Savoie was selected first overall in the first round by the Winnipeg Ice in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. In his rookie 2019-20 season with Winnipeg he contributed seven points (seven assists) in 22 games. He also got the chance to play for Team Canada at the 2020 Youth Olympics where he tied for third in scoring on the team with three points (one goal, two assists) in four games, as well as winning a bronze medal.
Last year with the COVID-19 pandemic leaving a lot of leagues up in the air, Savoie decided to go play on loan in the United States Hockey League (USHL) for the Dubuque Fighting Saints where he averaged over a point per game, scoring 38 points (21 goals, 17 assists) in 34 games, along with making the USHL All-Rookie Team. Savoie is currently ranked as the third overall prospect on the 2022 DraftPro preliminary rankings list.
I spoke briefly with DraftPro scout Matt Hnatiuk and he had this to say about Savoie, “Matthew Savoie is a player with an extremely high hockey IQ. He is able to think/read the game at a high pace and play continuously at it. Savoie has incredibly fast feet that are always moving and he has amazing acceleration from a stand still. He’s a player that everyone notices and watches when he is on the ice.”
One prospect that will give Savoie a run for his money as being the top WHL prospect this season is his Winnipeg Ice teammate, center Conor Geekie.
Geekie (6-4, 205), “A big, strong forward who has incredible puck ability,” says Hnatiuk. Geekie was taken second overall, one spot after his Winnipeg Ice teammate Matthew Savoie in the first round of the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft, after the Ice made a couple trades during the draft to move up to take him. Last season with Winnipeg, the left-handed center averaged just under a point per game notching 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 24 games, which was good enough to lead all 2022 NHL Draft eligible prospects in points. There is definitely no shortage of hockey roots in the Geekie family. Conor’s older brother Morgan has spent time in the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes and now the Seattle Kraken. His dad Craig also played in the WHL in the early 90s for the Brandon Wheat Kings and Spokane Chiefs.
Hnatiuk went on to say more good things about Geekie, “He can move well with the puck in tight, high pressure areas and comes out with it on the other side. Geekie has a smooth, long stride that propels him with very good top speed. He is able to make seeing eye passes right on the bullseye and can rip home shots with laser-like accuracy. A top tier power forward with incredible skills.”
Like Matthew Savoie and Conor Geekie, there are a lot of 2022 NHL Draft eligible prospects to be excited about in the WHL this season. This includes a trio of defensemen, Mats Lindgren of the Kamloops Blazers, Keaton Dowhaniuk of the Prince George Cougars and Denton Mateychuk of the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Lindgren (5-11, 165), is a left-handed defenseman who was selected seventh overall in the first round of the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft by the Kamloops Blazers. In 2019-20 he played for the Burnaby Winter Club Prep Team in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL) where he put up some impressive numbers for a defenseman, scoring 23 points (three goals, 20 assists) in 31 games. Last season for Kamloops he contributed with 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in 21 games. If you think the name sounds familiar, you would be correct. His father, also named Mats Lindgren, was a former first round pick of the Winnipeg Jets and played seven seasons in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, and Vancouver Canucks.
Speaking with Hnatiuk about Lindgren he had this to say, “As a quick-footed, agile, two-way defender, he possesses elite skating ability and edge work. Lindgren has incredible vision and sense, both with and without the puck. Even though he lacks some size right now, he isn’t afraid to lead the rush and he does so with speed and unbelievable skill. He never comes at you the same way on the rush. Possibly one of the best skaters in this draft class.”
Dowhaniuk (6-0, 158), is a left-handed defenseman who is currently the 50th ranked prospect overall on the 2022 DraftPro preliminary rankings list. He was the third overall selection in the first round of the WHL Bantam Draft by the Prince George Cougars, becoming the first defenseman taken in the draft. In 2019-20 he played for the OHA Edmonton Prep Team in the CSSHL where he had a great season, posting 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 25 games. Last season with Prince George he registered eight points (three goals, five assists) in 22 games. The 17-year-old who was born in the small town of Star City, Saskatchewan (POP 460), will hope to have a solid 2021-22 season with Prince George and hear his name called at the 2022 NHL Draft.
Mateychuk (5-11, 186), is a left-handed offensive defenseman who loves to jump up in the rush. Mateychuk was taken 11th overall in the first round of the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft by the Moose Jaw Warriors. In 2019-20 he played for the Eastman Selects U18 AAA Team in the Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League (MU18HL) where he averaged a point per game, notching 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 30 games. Last season with Moose Jaw he pitched in with nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 16 games. He also got the chance to play for Team Canada at the 2020-21 IIHF U18 World Junior Championships where he played three games and didn’t record any points, but still walked away with a gold medal to put on his resume.
When asked about the prospect, DraftPro scout Kai Farenholtz had this to say, “Mateychuk will be highly sought after once people recognize the skating abilities he possesses. He leaves a trail of smoke on the ice every single shift. His straight-line speed for a 16-year-old defenseman last year made him really thrilling to watch. Tie that in with his piping-hot motor and heart for the game, and you’ve got a wicked two-way defenseman. I have no doubt in my mind that Mateychuk will be an all-out monster in his upcoming draft year across the whole ice.”
These are three defensemen to definitely watch for this WHL season who all currently sit inside the top 60 on the 2022 DraftPro preliminary rankings. Any single one of them could break out this year and become a riser at this year’s draft. Jumping up to the forward position here are three prospects to keep an eye on this season. They are Medicine Hat Tigers center Oasiz Wiesblatt, Calgary Hitmen forward Tristan Zandee and Saskatoon Blades center Brandon Lisowsky.
Wiesblatt (5-8, 184), “A shifty, forward attacking player who loves to carry the puck up the ice,” says Hnatiuk. Wiesblatt was selected 12th overall by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first round of the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. In 2019-20 he played for the Calgary Buffaloes U18 AAA Team in the Alberta Midget Hockey League (AMHL) where he scored 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 29 games. Last season for Medicine Hat he got his first taste of rookie WHL action and contributed with five points (two goals, three assists) in 22 games. There’s no shortage of hockey roots or unique names in the family, as Oasiz has three older brothers who all play professional hockey, Ocean, Orca, and Ozzy. His brother Ozzy was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft.
Hnatiuk continued saying, “Once gaining the offensive zone, he has the ability to drive hard to the net or dish off smooth passes to teammates. His vision in the offensive zone is way above average and he makes positive decisions that create chances for his team. As a smaller player in height, he does not let that scare him. He charges through like a bull in a china shop and does anything to get the puck on his stick.”
Zandee (6-3, 202), is a big left-handed power forward who can play center and the wing. He was selected 36th overall in the second round of the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft by the Calgary Hitmen. In 2019-20 he played for the Canmore Eagles in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) where he came top five in points for 16-year-olds, scoring 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 46 games. Last season with Calgary he accumulated nine points (one goal, eight assists) over 21 games. Zandee is currently the 39th ranked prospect overall on the 2022 DraftPro preliminary rankings list.
Lisowsky (5-8, 177), was taken ninth overall in the first round of the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft by the Saskatoon Blades. During the 2019-20 season he played in the CSSHL for the Burnaby Winter Club Prep Team where he averaged well over a point per game, scoring 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 13 games. Last season he played his rookie WHL season for Saskatoon and had a solid year, posting 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in 24 games. Those totals were good enough for fifth in scoring on the team. If Lisowsky can put another solid season this year under his belt, he is definitely a prospect that can rise up the draft ranking boards.
“Lisowsky didn’t offer a whole lot to the skating department in his rookie campaign, as he has a bit of a choppy style and didn’t produce a true head of steam down on the breakout, although he makes up for this with some stellar offensive awareness. There almost isn’t a moment where Lisowsky is not in prime position for a scoring chance on the ice. His hockey IQ makes him a vital piece anywhere on the ice and as he enters his sophomore season in the WHL, maybe he’s added some more dimensions to his skating to become an even bigger offensive threat,” says Farenholtz.
So far you’ve been introduced to eight WHL Prospects that will all hope to hear their names called in the 2022 NHL Draft. Rounding out the top 10 are two prospects that play for the Kamloops Blazers, who could both be risers this season. They are right winger Matthew Seminoff and goaltender Dylan Ernst.
Seminoff (5-11, 178), “is a diligent skater and a better puck carrier,” says Farenholtz. Seminoff was taken 93rd overall in the fifth round by the Kamloops Blazers in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft. In his rookie 2019-20 season with Kamloops he contributed with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 48 games. Last year with the Blazers he had a solid season, scoring 16 points (11 goals, five assists) in 22 games. His 11 goals were good enough to lead all 2022 NHL Draft eligible prospects in the league for goals scored.
Farenholtz continued saying, “He’s demonstrated he could be a little spark plug in his opponent’s half with his good speed and slick release on his wrist shot. Entering his third full season with the Kamloops Blazers this Fall in a top-six role with ensured power play time, I believe Seminoff can easily be a point per game player and an offensive threat throughout the entirety of the season with his instinctive offensive talents.”
Ernst (6-2, 195), was the highest goalie selected at the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft when the Kamloops Blazers took him 28th overall in the second round. During the 2019-20 season he played for the Moose Jaw Warriors U18 AAA Team in the Saskatchewan Male AAA Hockey League (SMAAAHL). He put up some very impressive numbers, posting a 2.30 GAA, .920 save percentage, along with 12 wins and four losses. Ernst also earned a spot as the backup goalie on Team Canada at the 2020 Youth Olympics where he won a bronze medal. Last season with Kamloops he won three of the four games he played. Watch for Ernst to get more playing time this season with Kamloops as he tries to improve his draft stock in the lead up to the 2022 NHL Draft.
For more on the WHL prospects and the 2022 draft class be sure to pick up a copy of our 2022 Draft Preview Magazine available this fall.