Can Bo Horvat Stick with the Vancouver Canucks?

Is Bo Horvat ready to stick in the NHL? What does history tell us?
Image via The Chronicle.

It seems that with each passing day, more and more people are talking themselves into Bo Horvat being the answer to the Canucks’ "riddle down the middle" on the 3rd line. I think that at this point it has as much to do with the lack of other intriguing options as it has to do with anything about Bo Horvat.

Brad Richardson. Jordan Schroeder. Mike Santorelli. Not exactly a list of names that inspires a ton of confidence in having the ability to fill an important role on the team. Especially a team whose fans have become conditioned to expect wins. Horvat is obviously a highly touted prospect, who is not only the new shiny toy in town, but also by all accounts plays a style of two-way hockey that could easily endear him to coach John Tortorella.

But is Horvat actually a realistic option to not only make the team, but stick in a 3rd line role? What does history tell us?

Read on past the jump for more.

According to Hockey Reference, there have been 21(*) 18-year old centers (as of February 1st of that particular season) to hang around in the NHL for >9 games. You’ll note that because of that February 1st deadline, a guy like Sean Couturier doesn’t make the list. Also, there are 22 names, but as far as I know, Evander Kane never actually played down the middle in the NHL. He’s a winger through and through, which is why I didn’t include him.

Below is a look at how each of the players on the list performed in their draft year, and how the team they were set to join did that season:

Player Drafted Team Record Production
Alexander Daigle 1st overall (’93) 10-70-4 53 GP, 45 G, 92 A (QMJHL)
Chris Gratton 3rd overall (’93) 23-54-7 58 GP, 55 G, 54 A (OHL)
Jeff Friesen 11th overall (’94) 33-35-16 66 GP, 51 G, 67 A (WHL)
Joe Thornton 1st overall (’97) 26-47-9 59 GP, 41 G, 81 A (OHL)
Patrick Marleau 2nd overall (’97) 27-47-8 71 GP, 51 G, 74 A (WHL)
Vincent Lecavalier 1st overall (’98) 17-55-10 58 GP, 44 G, 71 A (QMJHL)
Rico Fata 6th overall (’98) 26-41-5 64 GP, 43 G, 33 A (OHL)
Manny Malhotra 7th overall (’98) 25-39-18 57 GP, 16 G, 35 A (OHL)
Tim Connolly 5th overall (’99) 24-48-10 46 GP, 34 G, 34 A (OHL)
Pierre-Marc Bouchard 8th overall (’02) 26-35-12 69 GP, 46 G, 94 A (QMJHL)
Patrice Bergeron 45th overall (’03) 36-31-11 70 GP, 23 G, 50 A (QMJHL)
Dan Fritsche 46th overall (’03) 29-42-11 61 GP, 32 G, 39 A (OHL)
Sidney Crosby 1st overall (’05) Lockout 62 GP, 66 G, 102 A (QMJHL)
Jordan Staal 2nd overall (’06) 22-46-14 68 GP, 28 G, 40 A (OHL)
Sam Gagner 6th overall (’07) 32-43-7 53 GP, 35 G, 83 A (OHL)
Steven Stamkos 1st overall (’08) 31-42-9 61 G, 58 G, 47 A (OHL)
Ryan O’Reilly 33rd overall (’09) 32-45-5 68 GP, 16 G, 50 A (OHL)
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 1st overall (’11) 25-45-12 69 GP, 31 G, 75 A (WHL)
Alex Galchenyuk 3rd overall (’12) 31-35-16 68 GP, 31 G, 52 A in ’11 (OHL)
Mikhail Grigorenko 12th overall (’12) 39-32-11 59 GP, 40 G, 45 A (QMJHL)
Stefan Matteau 29th overall (’12) 48-28-6 18 GP, 6 G, 4 A (USHL)

As a comparison, here’s how the 18-year old centers performed the following season (in their rookie campaigns), and how their teams wound up doing:

Player Team Record Games Played Production Point Shares
Alexander Daigle 14-61-9 84 20 G, 31 A, 168 SOG 2.7
Chris Gratton 30-43-11 84 13 G, 29 A, 161 SOG 2.2
Jeff Friesen 19-25-4 48 15 G, 10 A, 86 SOG 2.1
Joe Thornton 39-30-13 55 3 G, 4 A, 33 SOG -0.5
Patrick Marleau 34-38-10 74 13 G, 19 A, 90 SOG 3.1
Vincent Lecavalier 19-54-9 82 13 G, 15 A, 125 SOG 1.9
Rico Fata 30-40-12 20 0 G, 1 A, 13 SOG -0.2
Manny Malhotra 33-38-11 73 8 G, 8 A, 61 SOG 1.4
Tim Connolly 24-48-10 81 14 G, 20 A, 114 SOG 1.8
Pierre-Marc Bouchard 42-29-11 50 7 G, 13 A, 53 SOG 2
Patrice Bergeron 41-19-22 71 16 G, 23 A, 133 SOG 4.5
Dan Fritsche 25-45-12 19 1 G, 0 A, 19 SOG -0.2
Sidney Crosby 22-46-14 81 39 G, 63 A, 278 SOG 10.5
Jordan Staal 47-24-11 81 29 G, 13 A, 131 SOG 5.6
Sam Gagner 41-35-6 79 13 G, 36 A, 135 SOG 3.7
Steven Stamkos 24-40-18 79 23 G, 23 A, 181 SOG 4.5
Ryan O’Reilly 43-30-9 81 8 G, 18 A, 135 SOG 1.2
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 32-40-10 62 18 G, 34 A, 134 SOG 6
Alex Galchenyuk 29-14-5 48 9 G, 18 A, 79 SOG 3.5
Mikhail Grigorenko 21-21-6 25 1 G, 4 A, 31 SOG 0.2
Stefan Matteau 19-19-10 17 1 G, 2 A, 22 SOG 0.2

(*In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of point shares, they’re explained nicely here.)

For the most part, there appear to be two main reasons why an 18-year old would stick with the team that drafted him instead of going back to junior for another year of development:

a) The team stinks, and feels the need throw to their fans a bone by putting the shiny new toy on display.

b) The team is gearing up for a playoff run, and is hoping the player would provide a much needed push.

The list provides an interesting mixture of talent, with guys at both ends of the spectrum. For what it’s worth, only 7 of the players actually wound up playing for teams with winning records, while most struggled quite a bit (as you’d expect given the circumstances).

While I’m probably lower on the Canucks heading into the 2013-14 season than most in these parts, they still clearly don’t fit the first category. Barring a series of unfortunate events they’ll once again win a bunch of games, and be competing when the playoffs roll around.

The second category seems to be a good fit, though. With the team’s perceived window closing, they could be feeling the pressure of trying to make one last serious push with this core. Could they believe that Bo Horvat could be that missing piece of the puzzle that helps them make a playoff push? Sure. 

I’m all for going into training camp and the preseason with an open mind; if he truly proves that he deserves that spot, then you give it to him, because he earned it. It certainly helps his case that the competition for the gig isn’t all that stiff, and John Tortorella (and Mike Gillis) have repeatedly gone out of their way to suggest that we’re in the midst of a youth movement of sorts.

But if there’s any doubt whatsoever, then I simply don’t see the point of rushing him and potentially stunting his development. This coming season is a big one for him. He figures to be the captain of his junior team (which will be hosting the Memorial Cup, by the way), and he’ll be a prominent member for Team Canada at the World Juniors. And quite frankly, he still has work to do; as Thomas Drance pointed out in his profile of the 9th overall pick, Horvat struggled in the times he wasn’t paired up with fellow 1st rounder Max Domi last season. 

I’m not saying it’s impossible or even inconceivable that Bo Horvat sticks with the Canucks this Fall, because that’s clearly not the case, but if history has told us anything, it’s that you shouldn’t put your money on it. Not yet, at least.

  • JCDavies

    I really really don’t want to see him rushed into the NHL. As mentioned, this season in junior is too big for his development to rush him.

    I still see this season as a treading water….make due with what you have until the young guys are ready….so that means Jensen and COrrado in the AHL, and Horvat, Gaunce and Shinkaruk in Junior and hopefully the WJHC.

    Realistically, you have a top-end 1st line with the Sedins + whoever. You give them tons of offensive zone starts, but they can go toe to toe against the other teams second-tier. A Higgins-Kesler-Burrows 2nd line can take on the tough defensive match-ups and zone starts, while a third line of Booth (when healthy)and Hansen flanking Schroeder or Santorelli can handle sheltered offensive minutes.

    Secondary defensive match-ups can go to Richardson and Weise 4th line.

    It’s not ideal, but then in 2014 the window is still open…but you get an influx of youngsters who are more ready to jump to the NHL….and I believe in 2015 and 2016 the Canucks will have their best shot at a Cup.

    If they don’t screw up with young player development…

    • Mantastic

      “I believe in 2015 and 2016 the Canucks will have their best shot at a Cup.”

      Their best shots were in 2011 & 2012.

      The Canucks are more likely to be rebuilding than competing for a championship in 2015 and 2016.

      “If they don’t screw up with young player development.”

      1. Grabner, Hodgson, Sauve, Schroeder, Rodin, KConn & the 2010 draft.

      2. The current prospect group is pretty middling.

      3. The window has closed.

  • Thanks for the sobering look.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the Canucks are willing to use Horvat as the 3LC even if it isn’t in his best long term interest.

    While it’s not a perfect comparison, the team was willing to burn a year of Corrado’s ELC because they felt he was their best depth defenseman option for the 2013 playoffs.

    Maybe all Horvat needs to do to stick past 9 games is be better than the other internal 3LC options.

    Alas, perhaps the best option for this year is to “build up” Schroeder with favourable zone starts and trade him to Nashville for Cullen once they fall out of the playoff race.

    Has it really come to this?

  • Mantastic

    i think Horvat can stick with the team just due to the fact there really isn’t a better option at this moment and that the competition is really easy to beat out for the job.

  • Mantastic

    The team set a 101 pt pace last year without 2nd and 3rd line centres. So, there is no reason to rush or force a 3rd line solution immediately.

    I would assume Horvat gets a look, maybe a few games, but in the end will be returned to Junior.

    The 3rd line centre spot needs to be filled for the playoffs, not for the start of the season. Patience may unearth a better solution as the season goes along.

    • Mantastic

      Do we really want more assets traded to find a competent 3LC via the rental market?

      Sedin, Kesler & Roy were as good as any top 3 centres the Canucks have had for a playoff run.

      Not that it should be recreated for 2014…

  • Mantastic

    Last year was unique due to lock out, short season and minimal training camp. I think we have some young players that could surprise but they should be brought along slowly. No need to rock a young guy’s confidence by pushing him along.

    We have some good prospects and we’ll need them in a few years.

    I really hope we don’t sign the Sedins for 4 more years. No need in having a 37 year old block a prime time prospect.

    I do think our window is closed but with the cap going up next year the free agent market might be a huge help.

    • Mantastic

      “I think we have some young players that could surprise.”

      Delusional hockey fan motto.

      “I really hope we don’t sign the Sedins for 4 more years. No need in having a 37 year old block a prime time prospect.”

      The current GM cares little about creating a mess for the next GM.

      “I do think our window is closed but with the cap going up next year the free agent market might be a huge help.”


      Sedin raise ($1.4 million)
      Sedin raise ($1.4 million)
      Hansen raise ($1.15 million)
      Tanev raise ($0.75 million)
      Kassian raise ($0.6 million)
      Leftover raises ($1 – $2 million)

      Better luck in 2015…

      • Peachy

        Current rumours (Botchford) have the Sedins without a raise. Only Hansen and Kassian are in line for decent raises.

        Not that there’s likely to be much of interest on the market this summer…

        • JCDavies

          “Current rumours (Botchford) have the Sedins without a raise.”

          I saw this too, but I’m not sure how realistic it is.

          In a different thread, NM00 made a good point about what the Sedin’s share of the cap is expected to be.

          When the Sedins signed their last contracts, deals that were generally agreed to be team friendly, each Sedin accounted for 10.74% of the 2009-10 $56.8 mil salary cap.

          10.74% of the current $64.3 mil cap would give the Sedins cap hits of $6.9 mil.

          If we assume a modest salary cap increase to $68 million for the 2014-15 season, the Sedin’s cap hits, at 10.74% of the cap, become $7.3 mil.

          If the Sedins did sign for $6.1 mil AAV in a $64.3 mil or $68 mil salary-cap environment, their cap percentages would fall to 9.49% and 8.97% respectively. Further, 9.49% and 8.97% of the 2009-10 $56.8 mil cap would have worked out to $5.39 mil and $5.01 mil AAVs.

          Relative to their peers, the Sedins signing $6.1 mil AAV contracts would be without a doubt a reduction in salary. I’m not sure how realistic this is.

          I don’t think the Sedins are the type of players to go for max-money, and I would thrilled if they took less money so the Canucks can ice a better team, but it would be an incredible gift for the Canucks if the Sedins signed for those numbers.

  • Peachy

    This is how I see it. The kid has a good camp, he gets his nine game taste and is sent back to Junior where he can lead and play for a Memorial Cup, which is a nice guarantee in the development of a young player. If none of the other options emerge as good ones for 3C, we spend or trade. There’s still a few teams that will have to shed cap. Thus, you never know what might be floated in the next few weeks with the last part of the crunch. It’s still one of the more interesting subplots of camp, so I’m kinda glad they haven’t filled it yet.

  • Peachy

    there’s a lot of caution (well-warranted) and out right hennypennying (hysterical is a word that comes to my mind)…

    I’m loath to put myself out there with this comparison because Staal had that sort of production… But his Staal and Horvat’s draft profiles are REALLY similar. Their size and weight profile. Their assists and goal totals (including playoffs). The kind of player they’re billed as. Their height and weight.

    Could Horvat be that sort of 18 year old 3rd line center? Unlikely – Staal’s immediate impact was obscene – but there’s a lot in common to like.

  • Peachy

    Still think our best shot is Burrows at centre. Burrows is our best defensive forward and was alright when playing 2nd line centre last year. Behind Sedin/Kesler with easier comp, he should be able to play a defensive role – we also have three prospects who could come in one the wing – Shinkaruk, Jensen and Gaunce (who could take faceoffs).

    On the other hand, a Shinkaruk-Kesler-Burrows line would be awesome. All bring their own brand of violence. Would suit Torts.

    • Peachy

      Burrows would be a disaster as a full-time full-season center. You need to have someone who would not only be responsible defensively (which he clearly is) but someone who can take draws and take the pressure off of Kesler. Henrik is ok for the offensive zone draws, but having a decent 3LC who can take draws springs Kesler for more o-zone starts and doesn’t bog him down into a more defensive role. Even in the limited time last season Burrows seemed uncomfortable and he’s just not good enough at taking draws for this to be a realistic option. That said I also don’t think Horvat is ready and we aren’t so desperate as to need to throw him out there yet. I’d hope that Gaunce is good enough (which it looks like he might not be) and otherwise hope that some combination of Schroeder, Richardson and Lain put it together to make the 3 and 4 c’s work. I’d say that’s clearly the biggest holes for the Canucks now but who knows what the preseason will show.

      NM00, I don’t dispute that the Canucks prospect pool isn’t nearly as strong as many another team’s but I think you are being far too — and unreasonably — pessimistic about it. You keep harping on the fact that the Canucks are hamstrung by overpaid and overlong contracts and that the talent in the pipeline isn’t sufficient. But the last time the Canucks went through this transition they translated two lottery picks who made a very long and slow progress into stars only while they had established stars (Naslund, Bertuzzi, Morrison) to shoulder the load in the meantime. I see this period as having a similar potential — I like the idea of a retool on the fly, with the Sedins providing a bridge to the next group of players. They may not have the same long-term success that the Luongo era has brought us, with an aging core, and the Canucks certainly won’t have the same success that playing in a soft division has brought us in recent years, but I still don’t see this yawning abyss you seem to describe so often.

      • Peachy

        It may take a couple of years for you to see the yawning abyss.

        There’s little reason to think the Canucks are more than a 1st round team in 2013-2014.

        Unless there is a shakeup to the core, something the GM has shown zero willingness to try, there is little reason to believe the Canucks are more than a 1st round team in 2014-2015.

        So now fans are setting 2015-2016 as the time when the next contending Canucks team could emerge.

        Because the Sedins & Luongo might age gracefully.

        Because the Canucks are going to get so much more from Horvat, Shinkaruk, Jensen, Gaunce & Corrado than they did from Hodgson, Sauve, Schroeder, Rodin, KConn & the 2010 draft in general.

        Pining for 2015-2016 is something Oiler and Flames fan should be doing.

        A middling team with a relatively old core and middling prospect pool shouldn’t get anyone excited.

        • JCDavies

          I have seen the Canucks have an actual yawning abyss, having grown up on the disaster-fests of the 80s teams so it’s hard for me to see the sky as falling here. I don’t doubt that this period is a problematic one and that the team may not be as strong as it has been in the past few years. And maybe you’re right that the window has closed, though I hope it hasn’t. The league has reached far more parity than it once did and with the exception of Chicago there’s not many who seem set up to contend for the foreseeable future.

          But your pessimism is based on as many assumptions as the positive delusions you ascribe to everyone else who doesn’t have your “vision”. There is little evidence that “shaking up the core” is a recipe for success in and of itself. The last overhaul we witnessed was shipping out Bure, Linden, McLean and the rest, which did net us the Sedins but they weren’t the rebuild; it was Luongo and the WCE. It was the transition from that era to the current one which didn’t destroy the core but evolved from it. Who says that 2015-2016 is the next time for a contending Canucks team? The Canucks have had two crappy playoff runs; it’s way too early to say as definitively as you are that they will do so again this year. And for the last time, trotting out the 2008-2010 drafts to demonstrate the (apparently low) value of the current crop of prospects (especially the past years’) is a poor comparison.

          What is your solution (and hope) here? That the Canucks blow up the team, trade the Sedins, Luongo, go for the bottom-dweller approach and start from scratch? It must be nice to be as prescient (and positive) as you…

          • pheenster

            My “solution” as of right now is to hold off on extending the Sedins and seeing how the year plays out.

            If the Canucks are again a 1st round team, I’d strongly consider letting the Sedins walk and trading/buying out Luongo.

            Hanging around the middle like the Flames did is the absolute worst idea.