Matt Savoie's season with the Winnipeg Ice ended in bitter fashion this week with a loss in the Western Hockey League championship.
It was a disappointing finish to another remarkable year for the Buffalo Sabres' top prospect, but the timing will allow Savoie to receive an early look at pro hockey.
The Sabres assigned Savoie to the Rochester Americans on Sunday ahead of their Eastern Conference final series against the Hershey Bears, which begins Tuesday night on the road. Savoie, 19, produced 49 goals and 124 points in 81 games between the regular season and playoffs with Winnipeg.
Savoie isn't joining the Amerks to watch from afar, either. Sources told The Buffalo News that he'll have an opportunity to earn a spot in the lineup after an acclimation period. First, he'll practice with the team and train with them off the ice. If Savoie proves he's ready, they won't hesitate to play him against Hershey.
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The NHL's development agreement with the Canadian Hockey League will prevent Savoie from playing an entire season in Rochester because he doesn't turn 20 until January, but the rules allow him to join the club for the postseason. He's the third prospect to join the Amerks during the playoff run, following Olivier Nadeau and Noah Ostlund. Nadeau is practicing with the team and isn't expected to play unless there's an injury. Ostlund, a first-round draft pick in 2022, couldn't skate because of a foot injury and returned to Sweden this week.
The Sabres drafted Savoie with the ninth pick of the 2022 draft and assigned him to Winnipeg after training camp in the fall. He led the Ice to the WHL championship series, where it lost to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
It's too soon to predict where Savoie will play next season. One option would be for the Sabres to carry him on the NHL roster long enough that he can go on a conditioning assignment to Rochester. He could receive valuable experience with the Amerks before heading to the IIHF World Junior Championship. The Sabres would then have Savoie finish the regular season in junior hockey before returning him to Rochester for another playoff run next spring.
The Seattle Kraken used a similar plan with its top prospect, Shane Wright, whom the club drafted with the fourth pick of the draft last summer. Wright, 19, appeared in eight games with Seattle, then joined its American Hockey League affiliate for eight games before competing in world juniors. He finished the regular season in junior hockey, then re-joined the AHL club for the playoffs.
Savoie will likely receive an opportunity to make the Sabres' roster out of training camp in the fall, but it will be challenging for him to surpass fellow prospects Jiri Kulich, Isak Rosen and Lukas Rousek, all of whom have been difference-makers in Rochester's playoff run.
Savoie, who turns 20 in January, totaled 90 goals and 216 points over the past two years in Winnipeg. He has the skill set to make an immediate jump to the NHL, but he'd benefit from receiving more time to physically prepare for the demands of an 82-game season with Buffalo.