BUFFALO – Having just returned from a conditioning loan, Sabres prospect Matt Savoie won’t make his NHL debut tonight in Carolina. Coach Don Granato wants to put him into positions he will succeed, so he doesn’t feel comfortable playing him against the Hurricanes after one practice.
In the near future, however, the Sabres will likely give Savoie, 19, a chance to showcase his talents. The slick forward stood out in the AHL, scoring two goals and five points in six games before he was recalled Monday from the Rochester Americans.
“I thought he looked like he fit in well and that was the reports talking to the coaches there,” Granato said following Monday’s practice in KeyBank Center. “It’s an opportunity for us to see where he’s at here now.”
Ideally, Savoie, the ninth overall pick in 2022, would stay in Rochester. But as a teenager whose rights are owned by a Canadian Hockey League team, the Wenatchee Wild, he can’t play in the AHL until his junior season ends.
So when his 14-day assignment ended, the Sabres had to decide whether he should join them or return to junior, a level he has dominated. He can play nine games before the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in.
“It’s exciting,” Savoie said of returning to Buffalo. “It’s been a dream of mine to play in the NHL since, I mean, as long as I can remember. So to be back up here and practicing and back involved with the big club, it’s pretty special.”
The Sabres could occasionally dress Savoie for games while letting him acclimate to the big leagues. Next month, he might receive an invitation to participate in Team Canada’s World Junior Championship training camp.
Buffalo has been willing to award teenage prospects NHL games. Rookie winger Zach Benson, 18, earned a roster spot out of training camp, and he played six games before suffering a lower-body injury.
If Savoie hadn’t injured his elbow and shoulder in the Prospects Challenge rookie tournament and missed all of training camp, he possibly would’ve received some NHL action by now.
After he recovered, he spent time practicing with the Sabres.
“He has a comfort level around here that will help accelerate that (acclimation) process,” Granato said. “It’s not like we just picked up a player in a trade and he doesn’t know anybody. He’s been around how we operate and Rochester operates in a very similar manner. I do think that he feels like he’s integrated already.”
In Rochester, Savoie skated at right wing alongside center Jiri Kulich and Isak Rosen, two other first-round picks, and played on the power play. His first taste of regular-season pro hockey – he played two games in the Calder Cup Playoffs last year – offered him an opportunity to play meaningful minutes.
The Amerks have lost six forwards to injury and two have been recalled.
“We had a little bit of a depleted lineup in Rochester, you could say,” Savoie said. “But I think it just provided a little bit more opportunity down there to play in those big moments, get some power-play time, play when we’re in the lead. So those are just experiences I can take and bring them up to the next level.”
The 5-foot-9, 179-pound Savoie shared reps on Monday at right wing with Victor Olofsson alongside center Peyton Krebs and Lukas Rousek.
Krebs, 22, believes Savoie, his teammate with the Western Hockey League’s Winnipeg Ice, will adjust to the NHL.
“The Western League, I’d say, it’s a lot easier to speed up than to slow down and for Matt, speeding up will be easy for him out here,” he said. “And I think the only difference is there’s going to be bigger guys who are gonna execute. In the AHL, it’s not going to be that much different than here other than there’s going to be a lot more tape-to-tape passes.”
The Sabres created a roster spot for Savoie by placing rookie winger Brandon Biro on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.
Granato said center Dylan Cozens, who suffered an upper-body injury in Friday’s 5-1 home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, “is progressing very well.”
“We would expect a strong potential to see him in practice in a couple of days,” he said.
Cozens fought Garnet Hathaway late in the game.