Prospect Profile: #3 Bo Horvat


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:

  • Mantastic

    Sidestepping the flame war; I think it’s clear that Horvat’s got the better potential long-term but at present Gaunce is the more polished player. It’s not like they’re 10 spaces apart in these rankings. This seems pretty accurate.

    It’s nice to be able to look at the prospect rankings especially after this draft and a couple of the signings and have more than a few should-make-it rather than hope-for-the-best candidates. Especially nice to see so many 6’0 200lb forwards in the pipeline.

  • Mantastic

    Are all the throwing of insults around are done?

    Horvat is a good pick for third prospect because this was his draft year and he played on a very good team. All those did he make Domi or vice versa will play out over the next few years. Gaunce has more tape to watch and numbers to crunch, but they may well be very similar players. As for Corado, the reason he will be the top prospect is that he is the only one that was put into NHL Playoff service and performed very well. All of the top three can be jumbled around any which way. The facts are that the system is thin and Gillis needs to do everything possible to ensure these top guys round into top 6 forwards and a top 4 Dman. If that means Junior, so be it, if it means Utica.. Sure, but don’t put these guys in positions were they will not succeed. Just doesnt make sense right now. Time for Kassian, and Schoeder to step up.

  • Mantastic

    @ManGoo

    Hey, you and the idiot troll might be right on these guys. You could be wrong. I am willing to give them time and see what ACTUALLY happens. I prefer that route. I like facts. You guys would rather profess to know how they will develop and that they will suck. Right. Keep on keeping on.

    By the way, could you guys give me some numbers for the next 649 lotto?

  • Mantastic

    Should have took Nichuskin, sick of this ridiculous inherent risk that is attached to EVERY Russian player. And instead of Mallet, they should have took Khaira, iIRC he’s currently #6 on oilers prospect rankings done by Jonathan Willis (I think). 6″3 and a beast, mean and isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas.

  • JCDavies

    “Overall, I’d describe Horvat as the best prospect that the Canucks have had in the system since Henrik Sedin.”

    Okay, if people’s expectations weren’t high already, they sure are now! : )

    Media/blogs ranking prospects seems to be a complete $%#&shoot…you haven’t seen the guys play much (or in some cases, at all). So it’s based on second hand knowledge (albeit it from guys who seem to know their stuff). Not trying to knock down Canucks Army, but I think people need to not take this ranking list so seriously. Unless you’re a scout (and possibly a future seeing wizard) you just don’t know how these guys are going to pan out. It’s fun to speculate though!

  • acg5151

    I liked the Schneider trade for basically Horvat. Looking at what was left, the only choices were Horvat, Nichuskin, Morin, Zadorov and Max Domi. This team hasn’t been high on any Russians in a while and doesn’t really have a pressing need for D either.

    Ultimately I think Bo Horvat is going to end up being similar to Ryan Kesler. I like Nichuskin but you can’t go wrong with Horvat. Max Domi is good but is smaller and had easier minutes. Bo Horvat is what the Canucks are moving toward. I think this is one of the few good choices that Mike Gillis has made in a while concerning the draft. The overage college prospects group has lead to basically Chris Tanev and Jordan Schroeder which isn’t that impressive. I’m happy the Canucks have moved more towards CHL guys like Brendan Gaunce, Horvat and Shinkarik.

    That being said, if this team is looking to replace Henrik and Daniel in another 5-6 years they’d better start getting some hits in the lower rounds. Corrado is a start.

  • Mantastic

    I think the top few prospects are interchangable but may favor Gaunce a bit because he is a bit older. Gaunce also had a good season and played through a shoulder injury. His playoff efforts were excellent which is something the Canucks really need.

    We also have a larger sample size with Gaunce.I think he’ll be a solid player with a ceiling of line 2 centre.

    I like Horvat’s upside a bit more but an unknown. I think his ceiling is line 2C but maybe even line 1 if he has the wingers.

  • Ah, prospect series’, where the gains made by picks of previous seasons are ignored because fans have a new guy to rest their hopes and dreams on.

    Of course, you follow the sport long enough and come to realize that you have much better clues about how players are going to project when they’re 19 or 20 as opposed to when they’re 17 or 18. Remember that Team Canada “Dream Team” in 2005? Less than half of the players on that team are above replacement-level players in the NHL. Bo Horvat’s admission onto that team is no guarantee of anything.

    I tend to rank older guys higher because we know more about them (although the flip to that is that I also rank older guys lower because… same reason. We know more about them.).

    Side note, if Horvat becomes a Hall of Famer, based on that picture, can Tobey McGuire’s son play him in the biopic?

      • Mantastic

        Lol, really?

        That’s brutally disingenuous.

        Whatever the issues with Gillis’ drafting, ranking drafted prospects is a completely different kettle of fish. As you’ve said so often, we’re talking about lottery picks. Uncertainty as to their NHL potential declines as they age.

        • Mantastic

          “Uncertainty as to their NHL potential declines as they age.”

          And so does the upside.

          It’s merely a reference to Gillis’ backward belief on overagers among other things.

          • Mantastic

            He drafted Mallet ONE draft ago!

            And used a 2nd round pick on him no less.

            Up until this last draft, one could argue he was putting a higher premium on overagers.

            Horvat, I’d argue, is another example of worrying more about a theoretical floor than a theoretical ceiling.

            Not unlike the way JP Ricciardi built the Blue Jays “farm system” for many years.

          • JCDavies

            @NM00

            So, genius, who would you have picked ahead of Mallet? Since not a single player after Mallet has played a game yet, how can you say he was a crap pick.

            Mallet looked quite good at the prospects camp and scouting reports indicate he is making progress.

            You are a special kind of stupid, aren’t you.

          • Mantastic

            oooooooooooooo, looked good at prospect camp and in scouting reports!! all players should be evaluated by this metric and nothing else

            you should be hired for drafting players!!!!!

          • Mantastic

            keep talking about how good he looked in prospect camp! it totally trumps the fact he played so poorly in the AHL he got demoted to the ECHL, fo sho. and that Gillis openly stated his strategy was to draft older players in the 2012 draft.

          • JCDavies

            “So, genius, who would you have picked ahead of Mallet?”

            I’m criticizing the philosophy of taking a bunch of overagers.

            Mallet just happens to be a noteworthy example since Gillis did it recently and devoted a 2nd round pick to this philosophy.

            “Since not a single player after Mallet has played a game yet, how can you say he was a crap pick.”

            If the New Jersey Devils had used their 9th overall pick on Anthony Brodeur, it would have been a crap pick immediately.

            Poor process that suggests a poor outcome.

            “Mallet looked quite good at the prospects camp and scouting reports indicate he is making progress.”

            ECHL.

            “You are a special kind of stupid, aren’t you.”

            I hope this was cathartic for you.

          • JCDavies

            I’m not looking to defend Gillis but you’re reaching a bit when you slag him.

            He took a couple of over aged players in a draft. I think it would be fine to hammer him if players taken AFTER those picks develop and his picks do not. The main point being, you have no idea what is going to happen with these picks.

            Some of them may develop via ECHL. So what? I love how you make the ECHL route seem like it’s where the busts only play.

            You have got to be the most negative and ignorant person on these boards.

          • Any sane person might infer that an excessive amount of talking out one’s ass might be the reason…

            As for Mallet being bad because he was in the ECHL, if the words “lockout year” aren’t explanatory enough, there is no help for you.

    • Mantastic

      Why is there even a need to rank prospects? It seems like it’s just an old habit that allows more pretentious posturing on message boards.

      I come to just collect info on these guys and could care less who is ranked above whom. Why not just pick the top 20 and review them alphabetically?

      • JCDavies

        Because ranking is cool and gives us more to talk about. 😛

        I’m totally with you on how pointless the exercise is given the uncertainty surrounding each prospect, but it’s still fun.

    • Mantastic

      I understand that guys like Gaunce/Corrado rise due to their recent play, and become more likely to be full-time NHL’ers but that’s an unfair way to evaluate prospects. Your essentially ignoring age (giving a benefit to a 19-20 year old that wouldn’t be afforded to an 18 year old).

      Gaunce/Corrado will likely crack the roster before Horvat/Shinkaruk will… but 5-6 years from now I think its safe to say which duo you would rather have.

  • Mantastic

    You guys should publish your individual rankings. Curious what prospects we didn’t take (Nichushkin, Domi etc.) would have ranked higher than last year’s 26th pick and a 5th rounder from 2011. Wasn’t a top 10 pick in a deep draft supposed to look a bit better than this, especially in such a poor prospect pool?

  • Mantastic

    for being such a statistical/analytic guy, i can’t believe you have Horvat your #1 because his numbers are bad in comparison to most of the other top 5.

    his strongest numbers come from FO% and shot blocking, both stats which 1) doesn’t matter and 2) reflect poorly in any advanced stats matrices.

  • FWIW Wisp, I agree and ranked Horvat ahead of Gaunce. That said I don’t know that Horvat’s offensive skills are *that* far ahead of Gaunce’s – certainly they’re not so far ahead that reasonable people couldn’t see Gaunce as having more upside. Gaunce for example had a way higher G and EVG rate in his draft eligible season than Horvat. He also never got to play with a playmaker like Domi…

    So in other words: I’m with you, but have no issue with our writers who saw Gaunce as the better prospect…

  • Mantastic

    There’s no way Canuck brass would tell you that thier highest selection in one of the deepest drafts in years is the team’s #3 prospect.

    So either the ink stained wretches who write for this blog don’t know what they are talking about or Canuck mgmt goofed with Horvat.

      • Mantastic

        Thanks, I forgot about that series. They aren’t good, but then again, it’s all points-based. And the Coppernblue would be the first to admit they’d like other info to evaluate players.

        I actually have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the questions about drafting anything other than good point-getters from junior is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I forget who it was on NHLnumbers, but they were using a stat based on ice-time, e.g., taking coaches to be good experts. If Horvat was getting that much icetime, esp. in the D zone, then there is stuff that using a points-based system of comparables isn’t going to pick up. Patrice Bergeron was basically a ppg player in the Q, which is known for high scoring. He seems to have other talents.

        In short, I’ve just convinced myself that I asked the wrong question in my previous comment! Thanks, Mantastic.

        • Mantastic

          Horvat is no Sean Couturier, Couturier drafted in the same position, score well over a ppg and his ceiling is probably a 2nd line C. he played against the toughs in the Q and he dominated them. and to be honest, playing the toughs in Junior doesn’t mean the same as playing against them in the NHL. the toughs in Junior is so very inconsistent and any elite Junior can easily score a ppg against them…

          people obviously can’t scout each draft eligible player evenly, that’s why we resort to looking at box scores to actually get a “fair” comparision against different players but it obviously doesn’t paint the full picture.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    I had Gaunce 4th on my list, just FYI (which would put him below Horvat on my rankings). But still, I was probably down on Horvat in comparison to others, I think. I had Hunter Shinkaruk clearly ahead of him as a prospect purely based on upside.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    Amateur hour at Canucks Army.

    I can buy that Corrado is ranked ahead based on his NHL tour so far, but not Gaunce.

    Are you guys box score scouting? Similar defensive game, but Horvat’s offensive tools are flat out better than Gaunce’s are.

        • Mantastic

          how much time was Guance on ice with any good players? the bulls were just awful last season and the season before, Guance clearly stirs the pot for the whole team, like Monahan did for the 67’s. clearly cannot say the same for Horvat

          • That’s disingenuous. For a guy supposedly his team’s only good player, he found himself playing wing pretty quick when Graovac came on board.

            You compare him to Monahan, but the Bulls were a Win Now team that made a decent run in the OHL playoffs. Can’t say the same for Monahan and the 67s.

            There’s a lot to indicate Horvat is the better player with higher quality tools. Don’t get caught up looking at box scores and team rosters.

          • Mantastic

            Horvat has better skating, speed, creativity, puck skills. Gaunce’s tools in these regards aren’t as good, and he gets by offensively by being more physically advanced than the competition.

            Hockey Prospectus on Horvat’s offensive tools: “His creativity progressed throughout this season, and his puck skills, hand-eye coordination, and playmaking vision all rank as above average; he can flash high-end offensive skill. It is difficult to find a weakness in his game. ”

            And here’s Hockey Prospectus on Gaunce:
            The Bad: Gaunce’s skating needs work, as his speed is below-average. He’s not a really gifted offensive player, either, from a creativity or puck skills standpoint. ”

            I think Gaunce has better tools than PRospectus gives him credit for (underrated playmaker, good shot), but I think Horvat’s are undeniably of a higher quality.

          • acg5151

            Kind of unimpressed with this one guys. I get that data is sparse for a guy who has had one season in Junior and that he played in such different situations (shut down centre, scoring winger, 3rd/4th line grinder) that he effectively had 3 tiny seasons that can’t be analyzed by statistics usefully. But the answer isn’t to lazily lump it all together and draw conclusions.

            The WOWY stats posted for example seem to drown out his success because he wasn’t always playing an offensive role. In reality his WOWYs are more likely just a proxy for “Horvat with worse linemates and better competition” vs “Horvat with great linemates and easier competition”. Giving all the credit to Domi is just silly unless you show what Horvat was like with his other linemates versus varying levels of competition. Something I know there isn’t the sample size to demonstrate with any certainty.

          • JCDavies

            “how much time was Guance on ice with any good players?”

            You won’t get any argument from me here.

            But comparing Horvat and Gaunce aside, you are also making projections for Horvat’s future based on PPG #s. QoT would have an impact on this.

          • JCDavies

            I respectfully disagree with this, I think QoT matters at most, if not all, levels. However, I would be open to reading any sources that actually prove, or attempt to prove, that this might be true.

      • JCDavies

        So stacked that Horvat also had to play the toughest minutes and competition as a second line center? He got the trench work.

        The kind of stats available at the OHL level, sample sizes, and the fact that we’re doing will progressing players (not finished products like we usually are in the NHL) makes a lot of the analytical work here questionable.

        For example, Horvat’s first 20 games, his production was not good. He changed his skates around then and his production sky rocketed.

        His last 40-something regular season games and 20-something playoff games are probably where Horvat’s true production lies. His playoff points are consistent with those last 40-something regular season games, so it wasn’t a post-season hot streak, either.