Could the Calgary Flames buy low on an intriguing WHL draft prospect?

Photo credit:Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds
Ryan Pike
10 months ago
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Sometimes it’s tough to be breaking into major junior on a stacked team. Case in point: Tij Iginla, Jarome’s son, played just three playoff games (and zero in the Memorial Cup) on the powerhouse Seattle Thunderbirds due to the club loading up with NHL-drafted veterans for their playoff run.
Another Thunderbird, centre Gracyn Sawchyn, is a very intriguing player heading into the 2023 NHL Draft.

Scouting report

A January 2005 birthday, Sawchyn was born in scenic Grande Prairie and grew up in Edmonton. He’s listed at 5’11” and 165 pounds, and he’s a right shot forward who primarily played at centre for Seattle. He’s got a younger brother, Lucas, who’s a couple years younger but also seems like a solid hand.
Sawchyn’s development path has been fascinating. His family moved from Edmonton to Minnesota a few years ago, and he’s bounced around a bit, showing up on a lot of high-end prep school teams. He found his way to Shattuck St. Mary’s, where he played for two seasons. He was the first overall pick in the 2020 WHL U.S. Prospect Draft by the Red Deer Rebels, then had his rights traded to Seattle in 2021. In his 16-year-old season, he played on the U.S. National Development Program’s under-17 team, but the Thunderbirds were able to convince him to play in the WHL for the 2022-23 season.
Over at Dobber Prospects, Luke Sweeney wrote this scouting report:
Gracyn Sawchyn drew the unfavourable role as a draft-eligible of playing 3C for the stacked Seattle Thunderbirds. Nevertheless, Sawchyn was still able to have a very productive season, finishing a point-per-game with 18 goals and 40 assists. Offensively, Sawchyn plays well off the cycle, where he can make use of his great hands and puck protection to play his inside-driven game. Sawchyn has a high motor, which despite not being very big, makes him an adept checker in all three zones, fishing pucks off the boards in the offensive zone and disrupting plays in the neutral zone. His skill, checking ability and pro habits should earn Sawchyn a long look at the next level.
As part of Smaht Scouting’s draft rankings, Josh Tessler wrote this assessment of Sawchyn’s game:
Sawchyn has excellent vision and does well at taking advantage of situations with limited space. He will get the pass off. Sawchyn is constantly looking to re-position himself as his teammates shift their own positioning so that way he can constantly provide his teammates with quality passing lanes should they need to pass. That has lead to goals at 5v5 for Sawchyn.
I believe that Sawchyn can be a well-rounded offensive asset at the NHL in a middle six role. But with where Sawchyn is right now in his development, I would put deploy him as a winger instead of a center. He doesn’t have a power stride yet. If he does develop a strong power stride, I would definitely without a doubt deploy him at center because the combination of his handling, mobility and strong north-south strides would pave the way for Sawchyn to create more chances on his own with the puck in medium and high danger. In addition, I want Sawchyn to have the ability to create opportunities for himself off puck and he’d have far less of those opportunities mid-cycle in a center role. Also, you have to consider that he is usually isn’t the primary transporter in the neutral zone. But, if he can develop that power stride then I’d want to him to move into a center role as his role with possession of the puck would lead to far more scoring chances at center given the many tools that he has in the toolbox.
Here’s a caveat for Sawchyn: he’s played just 58 games in the WHL and he’s done so in a secondary role on a great team. Granted, he’s been really effective in that role, but it may be challenging for NHL scouts to project his development with such a small sample size in major junior. (He did play a bunch of USHL games a season ago with the U.S. National Development Program, though, so his high-end sample isn’t nothing.)

The numbers

Sawchyn registered 18 goals and 40 assists for 58 points in 58 regular season. He had three goals and eight assists for 11 points in 17 playoff games. He was seventh on Seattle in points in the regular season and ninth in the playoffs.
Sawchyn was tied for 70th overall in WHL scoring. Among under-18 skaters, he was 17th in goals, eighth in assists and ninth in points. He was second in points among all WHL rookies.

Availability and fit

Sawchyn is a real good young player. He’s a right shot forward who can play centre (or the wing) and can play with pace. (Based on his size, he probably trends more towards the wing as a pro, but you never know.) The challenge for him early in the draft is there’s an element of risk around selecting him primarily based on the sample size question. He’s good and he’s probably going to be good, but it may be difficult to project what he’ll be with any confidence based on how few WHL games he has under his belt. (The Flames have Seattle’s captain, Lucas Ciona, under contract, so they may feel they have insights on Sawchyn that others may not.)
If you look at Sawchyn’s placement on a lot of the public rankings, that may be reflected. A few rankings have him as a late first-rounder (Smaht Scouting have him 21st, Dobber Prospects have him 29th), while Elite Prospects is a bit of an outlier with him at 13th. A few other rankings have him in the early second round: Daily Faceoff has him 34th, McKeen’s 41st and FC Hockey 45th. If he’s available when the Flames select in the second round (48th overall), he seems like he could be tremendous value as a “buy low” type of player – his role is gonna grow a ton in Seattle with so many veterans moving on.
But he may be a bit of a gamble at 16th overall.

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