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A look at the top prospects heading into the WHL bantam draft

A month after the OHL had its selection process, the WHL is set to pick the next crop of future stars on Thursday, led by scoring phenom Matthew Savoie.

The Matthew Savoie show is in full effect, everyone.

Savoie, who was declined WHL exceptional status despite being more than worthy of the honor, has the potential to become the best prospect the league has ever seen. That is, of course, if he breaks his promise and de-commits from the University of Denver. The Winnipeg Ice have the No. 1 pick in the draft, and after acquiring Savoie's brother Carter a few weeks back, it seems like a ploy by the club to land the top prospect. Originally, it was understood that Carter planned on staying with the AJHL's Sherwood Park Crusaders, but recent rumblings suggest that if the Ice select the younger Savoie, he'd join the team.

Long story short: if he indeed plays in the WHL, the league has a future superstar on its hands.

Unlike in the OHL or QMJHL, players in Western Canada are selected out of bantam. They can play just a handful of games in the WHL as a midget-aged player the following season before going full time at 16, much like the other major junior leagues in Canada. So, players have an extra year to decide if they want to go the NCAA route or if the WHL is truly the best option for their careers. Many top prospects will take part in a season-ending showcase tournament, the World Selects Invitational, in Philadelphia this weekend, with the top 2004-born prospects from around the world taking part prior to playing midget.

One theme you'll see in this year's draft is the volume of talented centers in the draft. In a league where size seems to play a factor more than anywhere else, having a big kid down the middle can be beneficial, especially when jumping into the league out of midget. With that in mind, let's look at some of the top prospects for the WHL Bantam Draft, which is set for May 2 in Red Deer, Alta.

Matthew Savoie, C
Savoie is the top prospect, no question. He was the only full-time bantam-aged player in midget, and Savoie, who had a 71-point season with the Northern Alberta X-Treme, was the closest any player has ever been to getting exceptional status in the WHL. But unlike Shane Wright in Ontario, Savoie wasn't granted the honors that would have allowed him to skip his midget season. Savoie was the undisputed top prospect all year long, with his mix of top-end speed, a non-stop work ethic and dangerous wrist shot making him tough to contain. Savoie isn't a big kid yet, but he's got enough strength with and without the puck to make it a non-issue. Savoie is a game-breaking forward and is an early favorite to go No. 1 in the 2023 NHL draft. For now, he's on track to become one of the greatest players the WHL has ever seen. That is, of course, if he decides to forego the NCAA.

Conor Geekie, C
At 6-foot-3, you can't go wrong with Geekie. He put a beatdown on bantam opposition in Winnipeg, scoring 49 goals and 86 points. Only Jonathan Toews has more total points in Winnipeg bantam history, with the Chicago Blackhawks captain recording 193 points in 2002-03. A dominant force with the puck, Geekie has a good mixture of speed, strength and skill and played in all situations for the Yellowhead Chiefs this season. He was impressive at the Canada Winter Games, as well, finishing with six points as Team Winnipeg's lone 2004-born player.

Koehn Ziemmer, C
The Alberta minor bantam MVP for 2017-18, Ziemmer's 76 points this season, the eighth-highest total in league history, were enough to finish second in the CSSBHL behind underaged draft phenom Connor Bedard. A high-tempo forward from the OHA Edmonton bantam prep program, Ziemmer is a top-end playmaker who uses his quick feet to his advantage to make plays. Ziemmer has the tools to become one of the WHL's future top scorers and it's all thanks to just how good he is at handling and dishing the puck.

Tyson Zimmer, C
Not to be confused with Ziemmer, Zimmer followed up an impressive U14 World Selects Invitational performance – 17 points in nine games – by leading the Okanagan Hockey Academy bantam prep team in scoring with 52 points in 26 games. Zimmer likes to shoot, shoot and shoot some more, and if you give him room to fire a wrist shot on the power play, that's your fault. Against kids his own age, he does a great job of creating offense and isn't afraid to throw the body, either. If you want a player that'll work very hard around the crease for goals, Zimmer's your guy.

Denton Mateychuk, D
No defenseman dominated the scoresheet in Winnipeg's bantam league like Mateychuk, who finished the season with 23 goals and 61 points while finishing second all-time in blueline scoring with 78 points across two seasons, trailing only current Moose Jaw Warriors defender Daemon Hunt (94) for the top spot. When you see him play, you'll see a young Tyson Barrie or Kris Letang in the way he distributes the puck, joins in on the rush and gets back to his own zone in a hurry. Mateychuk should have no issue developing into a top defenseman, and while mid-season reports had him listed at just 5-foot-10, he can hold his own physically.

Ethan Buenaventura, G
The top goalie entering the draft, Buenaventura looks destined for considerable playing time as soon once he turns 16. Despite playing on a mid-pack team – which, admittedly, is a good thing for a young goaltender because they'll face significantly more shots – Buenaventura posted a .925 save percentage with the CSSBHL's Rink Hockey Academy bantam prep squad, tops among all goaltenders. Buenaventura has a good frame at 6-foot-1 and brings great athleticism and speed to the table. Buenaventura is a battler, seemingly never giving up on a scramble in front.

Nate Danielson, C
Some seem split on Danielson's potential, but one thing is clear: he drives a lot of offense. His explosive speed and blistering wrist shot are among the best in the draft class, and he put both on full display when he scored four goals in two games with the Red Deer Northstar Chiefs minor midget team. The AMBHL's MVP and top forward this season, Danielson is a tenacious forward that's physically strong and has a nice release. He doesn't mind spending time digging for loose pucks around the net, either. Danielson can be a two-way power forward who should fit the WHL game very well.

Brandon Lisowsky, C
Even though his post-season was short, Lisowsky had 10 points in three games with the Burnaby Winter Club bantam prep team, capping off a season that saw him finish fourth among goal-scorers in the CSSBHL with 32 markers. Lisowsky will often go 0-to-60 when trying to make a play and does so without putting himself out of position often. Lisowsky is considered to be one of the most versatile scoring forwards in the draft and figures to be a top contributor for the Western Canada Selects at the World Selects Invitational next week.

Keaton Dowhaniuk, D
Dowhaniuk is considered to be the top defenseman by many scouts after leading all CSSBHL defensemen with 35 points. The Edmonton bantam prep defender does a fantastic job carrying the puck up ice and isn't afraid to hold on to it if it's in his best interest to do so. He's good at so many aspects of the game, whether it be his mobility, three-zone play or physicality.

Jordan Gustafson, C
Gustafson has all the traits you'd want in a top pivot. The Fort Saskatchewan Rangers forward completed his second season of bantam with 70 points in 33 games to finish fourth in AMBHL scoring and second on his team behind Rhett Melnyk. Gustafson is a dynamic two-way center who can control the power play. Gustafson possesses great energy and his speed is one of his best assets, allowing him to get into dangerous scoring positions before the opposition can locate him.

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