Developing into an NHLer takes many steps along the way and often one of the biggest decisions is when to make the leap from one level to the next. In the past couple of days, three prominent 2020 NHL draft prospects announced they would be heading to college next season (rather than play juniors again). Let's take a look at their profiles.
Carter Savoie, LW (University of Denver)
The top goal-scorer in the Alberta Jr. A League this season with 53 goals in 54 games, Savoie's 99 points also ranked second overall, with only 20-year-old Sherwood Park Crusaders linemate Arjun Atwal tallying more.
Savoie showed off why he's so offensively dangerous at the CJHL Top Prospects Game and that shooting ability will be his ticket to the NHL - assuming he works out some of the kinks in his game.
“Carter is a high-skill guy, he just needs to work on his consistency," said one NHL team scout. "He’s got a great shot and great offensive instincts, he just needs to mature as a player.”
Other scouts mentioned Savoie's energy level and that will certainly be tested now that he's headed to Denver. The left winger's other option for next season was in the USHL with Dubuque, where he could have earned a plum spot on a Fighting Saints team that will lose a lot of its veteran scorers to college next season.
Michael Benning, D (University of Denver)
Benning and Savoie have planned to be attached at the hip for years and Benning was the offensive equivalent of Savoie on Sherwood Park's blueline this season. The nephew of Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning and brother of Edmonton Oilers defenseman Matt Benning had 75 points in 54 games for the Crusaders, which was tops among all AJHL defensemen.
“Tremendous power-play defenseman," said one NHL team scout. "That’s his calling at this point and that’s where his projection is too. When he gets to college he needs to gain a step and round out the two-way play. But he’s certainly a good prospect.”
With Ian Mitchell leaving Denver to sign his rookie deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Pioneers can certainly use Benning's back-end skills, but the college game will be a challenge defensively for the undersized blueliner. Like Savoie, Benning could have gone to USHL Dubuque next season.
Mitch Miller, D (University of North Dakota)
One of the top-scoring blueliners in the USHL this year, Miller put up 33 points in 44 games for the Tri-City Storm. He picked up steam for the draft as the season went on.
“I like his skating and his puck skills," said one NHL team scout. "I think he’s a secondary power-play guy. Not a great shot, but good vision and mobility. More of a puckmoving mentality. I’d like to see him get tougher. But good skater, good IQ. I don’t know if there’s high-end offensive ability there."
With Ottawa Senators pick Jonny Tychonick transferring out of North Dakota, there is one less body to compete with on the Fighting Hawks blueline, but Miller will have to earn his ice time for sure. As a late 2001 birthday, he won't be the youngest player on the roster, but next year's North Dakota squad will have high expectations, so internal competition will be fierce. Other freshmen blueliners include potential top-10 NHL pick Jake Sanderson and top-40 prospect Tyler Kleven, both from the NTDP.