Zach Sawchenko is living a luxury most draft eligible goaltenders haven’t been afforded. The Moose Jaw Warriors standout is enjoying plenty of minutes in the crease.
And it’s nothing new for the 18-year-old.
Sawchenko saw 2,745 minutes in net last year, doubling his 1,257 total as a 16-year-old rookie in 2013-14. At 1,897 through 32 appearances this season, Sawchenko is making the most of the luxury.
“That’s the biggest thing,” said Sawchenko, one of four goaltenders set to attend the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. “Moose Jaw is letting me do my thing out there. Brody (Willms) and I, we’ve got a great relationship, us two. It makes the games easier for me to bring.”
Willms, Sawchenko’s 17-year-old backup, is also eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.
But it’s been Sawchenko’s show to this point, with a 2.78 goals against average, .921 save percentage and an 18-9-3-1 record that has the Warriors firmly fixed in sixth in the Western Hockey League’s Eastern Conference.
The team’s success, Sawchenko suggested, has helped squash any concerns about the June draft.
“You just put it on the table and go out and play,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. If the team does well, which we are right now, that’s the biggest thing. The draft will take care of itself.
“I think it’s always in the back of your head, but you’re not always focusing on it. The biggest thing for me this year is getting to the playoffs and helping this team win a championship.”
So far, so good.
At this point, Sawchenko is one of the draft’s highest rated goaltenders.
“He’s is a powerful goalie that does an excellent job of using his lower-body strength to flawlessly take away the bottom half of the net,” Future Considerations head west scout Zenon Herasymiuk said. “He is extremely active and competitive in the crease, never giving up on pucks and constantly fighting to take away shooting options from attackers.
“Some may knock Sawchenko for his size, but I can tell you in watching him over the last four years I don’t think I have ever seen him get beat cleanly when he has a view of the puck. He has always been a clutch goalie that just battles and fights to make saves.”
That battle is something the Calgary, AB native prides himself with.
“For lack of a better word, I’ll just do whatever I can to stop the puck,” he said. “I try to be technically sound, but all that matters to me is keeping the puck out of the net. I pick and choose to be a mix, but the biggest guy I try to compare myself to is Carey Price. Obviously he’s in a league of his own right now.
“A guy I like to model my game after, though, is Eric Comrie. He’s just a great goalie. I’m decent buddies with him. He’s been a great help, too.”
Sawchenko doesn’t need to go far for help, though.
There’s plenty of it in the room.
Sawchenko is one of three highly-touted eligibles for the 2016 draft with the Warriors, with Brett Howden and Noah Gregor considered to be challengers as first round picks.
Having them, and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Brayden Point, has helped the group.
“You’re not doing this alone,” Sawchenko said. “We’ve got other guys doing it with you. It’s something special. It’s a real great experience to share with those other guys.”
Some he hasn’t been able to share, though.
Like meeting an NHL scout face-to-face.
An eye-opening experience that doesn’t let Sawchenko forget that the draft does loom, regardless of the attempts to block it out.
“They just kind of ask you a little about yourself and your goals and who you are as a person,” Sawchenko said. “They’re trying to create an image to the face. It’s a little eye-opening.
“It takes you a second to realize what’s going on…that your dream could become a reality here soon.”