BUFFALO – As training camp approached, Sabres prospect Matt Savoie looked like a top candidate to fill the open forward spot created by Jack Quinn’s Achilles tendon injury.
Savoie, 19, stood out early in the Prospects Challenge last month, only strengthening the belief he could jump from junior hockey to the NHL.
Then in his first shift of the tournament finale Sept. 18, he injured his right elbow and shoulder trying to break up a play around the net.
“It was definitely pretty devastating to not even get a chance to play in any preseason games or get to show myself in the games before the season,” Savoie said following Friday’s pregame skate in KeyBank Center, his first session since getting injured.
Still, Savoie, who won’t play in the preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Penguins, knows he’s lucky the injury did not require surgery.
“For what it was, best-case scenario, there was no structural damage,” said Savoie, the ninth overall pick in 2022.
Savoie wants to be cautious as he rejoins his teammates. Pregame skates don’t have the same intensity as a normal off-day practice. He did not have much contact Friday.
“I felt good out there,” he said. “My legs feel good. I’ve been doing rehab skates four or five times a week, so I feel my conditioning and cardio level is really good right now and looking forward to being back 100 percent.”
There’s no timeline for Savoie’s return to game action. The Sabres could place him on injured reserve to start the season.
“I feel better every day,” he said.
As a teenager whose junior rights are owned by the Western Hockey League’s Wenatchee Wild, he can’t play for the Rochester Americans.
He could eventually be returned to Wenatchee.
Savoie tried to use his time on the sidelines wisely.
“Just trying to learn every day,” he said. “Talking to guys, asking questions, hung out with a couple guys away from the rink and they’ve all been really great to me. This is such a good group they have here with the veterans they’ve got and all the young guys. I think it’s such a tight-knit team for an NHL locker room, so it’s pretty easy to get acclimated right away and just comfortable day by day.”
During his absence, rookie winger Zach Benson, Savoie’s junior teammate, has emerged as a strong candidate to crack the lineup at just 18.
“That’s the guy I was around all year last year and the year before,” Savoie said. “He has immense confidence. He’s real capable, too, so that backs it up. That’s what allows him to be so confident, the way he prepares in the summer, the way he approaches every day.
“He’s already such a pro in how he approaches everything on and off the ice. So it was a little bit cool just to see him come in and have an impact right away at that level.”