August 28 2013 09:35AM
Image via Matthew Henderson
Bo Horvat was a surprise selection for the Canucks with the ninth overall pick at the 2013 NHL draft. He wasn't much of a reach at that point in the first round, but the circumstances surrounding his selection - what with Horvat being the return in the rather shocking Cory Schneider trade - will be remembered in by Canucks fans for a long time.
So needless to say Horvat enters the Canucks system with high expectations. He makes his debut on our Canucks prospect rankings at third overall, which many of you may think is one or two spots too low.
Read past the jump for more on the team's highest draft pick since Daniel Sedin back in '99.
Horvat was one of the fastest risers during his draft eligible season. Though his statistical profile - 61 points in 67 OHL games - is sort of uninspiring and his comparables are kind of depressing, the responsibilities he took on as an 18-year-old on a non-host Memorial Cup team opened a lot of eyes. For good reason.
The London Knights centre faced the toughest matchups amongst all forwards on his team according to both our in-house estimates, and independent ones, as well. That's pretty rare for an eighteen year old in the Ontario Hockey League, especially when that eighteen year old plays for a dominant club like the Knights.
Playing for the notoriously defensive-minded duo of Dale and Mark Hunter, Horvat was deployed in a shutdown role against players older than him all season long. He distinguished himself as a top-end OHL face-off guy and shot-blocker in the league - which will surely secure him a special place in John Tortorella's heart, assuming the bench boss is still there by the time Horvat is NHL-ready - and still managed to outscore opponents, despite his usage.
"He's a really good faceoff guy," Sun Media sports editor John Matisz told Canucks Army, "Especially in (London's) defensive zone. They would throw him in there, even if he was dead tired at the end of a shift. The Hunter brothers just trusted him so much." Martisz was the Knights beat-writer for Metro News in London last season, and in one playoff game tracked Horvat extremely closely. Horvat won over 70% of his faceoffs in the contest, which by all accounts wasn't atypical for him last season.
Horvat finished second behind only Vincent Trochek (who is one year his senior) in the Western Conference OHL coaches poll for "best face-off man." Meanwhile the coaches named Horvat the best shot blocker, and he impressed in that area in particular on several high-profile occasions during the OHL playoffs. Although, as our esteemed readers have come to undestand, that particular skill is often vastly overrated in importance.
In the OHL playoffs Horvat often played on Max Domi's wing (though he'd still take all of the faceoffs). Horvat was named the MVP of said playoffs, and at the Memorial Cup he expertly batted one of the sickest saucer passes you'll ever see out of the air to complete one of last season's best hockey highlights:
While it wasn't his offense that made Horvat a top-10 pick, he was productive offensively last season. "He's got decent speed for how big he is, because he's kind of a bulky kid, and he has a good shot and hockey IQ," said Matisz, though projecting his offensive skillset to the NHL is "hard because he's more of a shutdown guy."
Wet blanket alert: Horvat has the skills, but the fact of the matter is that the Knights didn't even outscore opponents when Horvat was on the ice last season without Domi. Horvat helped make Domi more dominant in their limited ice-time together during the regular season, but the WOWYs make plain who was driving the bus offensively for the Knights (per @mattypfeffer):
Offensively, Horvat is a really strong finisher, though he's "more of a distributor than a scorer," says Matisz. Horvat relied heavily on power-play production to score his thirty-three regular season goals last season, which isn't something you generally like to see. His even-strength goals per game rate doesn't exactly jump off the stat sheet.
Horvat's usage is critical for providing some context here: he faced tougher opposition than Domi did, and was the defensive-zone start ace for a dominant Knights team. And it's not like Horvant wasn't productive offensively, putting up nearly a point per game despite his role. While there's definitely some blemishes on his resume, it's hard not to be impressed with what he did last season all things considered.
Overall, I'd describe Horvat as the best prospect that the Canucks have had in the system since Henrik Sedin. I personally rated him first overall among all the prospects in the system, mostly because of his level of defensive responsibility on a team that just crushed opponents last season. It's rare for an 18-year-old to to play that type of role and do it as well as Horvat did in a pretty difficult development league like the OHL.
The Knights will be automatic entrants into the Memorial Cup tournament this Spring, since they're hosting the tournament. Horvat may well play in the World Junior Championships for Team Canada in addition to the Memorial cup next season too, while also taking on more offensive responsibility for a Knights team that is graduating some key pieces.
Between the opportunities that await Horvat next season in Major Junior, and his modestly inconvenient cap-hit, he'd have to knock everybody's socks off to earn a spot on the Canucks roster this upcoming season.
Horvat's time isn't now, but his future shines brighter than any other Canucks prospects has in a long, long time.
Other Prospect Profiles in This Series:
- #20 Alex Friesen
- #19 Peter Andersson
- #18 Cole Cassels
- #17 Yann Sauvé
- #16 Joe Cannata
- #15 Patrick McNally
- #14 Darren Archibald
- #13 Alexandre Mallet
- #12 Alexandre Grenier
- #11 Joacim Eriksson
- #10 Kellan Lain
- #9 Henrik Tommernes
- #8 Joseph LaBate
- #7 Jordan Subban
- #6 Eddie Lack
- #5 Hunter Shinkaruk
- #4 Nicklas Jensen