Prospect Profile: #1 Bo Horvat

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Well, here we are. After a month of counting down the Vancouver Canucks’ top-20 prospects, we’ve finally arrived at our consensus choice for the top prospect in Vancouver’s system. We’ve covered every type of player from towering European defenders to late developing scorers to history-making college kids to dynamic and exciting Western League scorers. The Canucks’ pipeline of quality young talent is as full as it’s been in years, and at the head of the class of the future is none other than Bo Horvat.

We’ve written extensively about Bo Horvat on this platform before, and for good reason: at the time of his selection, he was Vancouver’s highest pick in the entry draft since the team selected Daniel and Henrik Sedin back-to-back in 2000, and unlike drafting Jake Virtanen, they had to give up arguably the best goaltender in the game today to get him. With Ryan Kesler now gone and returned in the form of Nick Bonino and Jared McCann (and the funeral pyre that is Luca Sbisa) leaving a gaping void at centre behind an aging Henrik Sedin, the pressure isn’t just on Horvat to produce, but to produce as soon as possible on a team that hopes to compete in an increasingly more vicious and unforgiving Western conference.

So, yeah. No pressure, kid.

Fortunately, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that one of the common refrains about Bo Horvat is that he’s equipped with the mental wherewithal to handle such a sadistic-at-times market like Vancouver. If you haven’t been paying attention, hello and welcome to Canucks Army! This is the part of the profile where we go over a bunch of scouting reports of Bo Horvat so you can get a good feel for the type of player he is and what his strengths and weaknesses are before we delve into some stats and numbers you probably don’t care about.

From McKeen’s Hockey Director of Scouting and Soo Greyhounds scout David Burstyn via McKeen’s Hockey:

“A smart, consummate team player who plays a solid and consistent two-way game .. trusted by the coaching staff and used in all situations .. excels at face-offs .. makes responsible plays, exploiting an above-average skill set .. routinely matches up against the opposition’s best players which factors in blunting his plus-minus totals .. makes clever puck decisions in close – and is a threat posting up in the slot as he packs a quick, heavy shooting release .. a growing slot presence as he shows improved timing and anticipation .. reads the play better than most and knows when to pounce into the open slot .. continues to get stronger physically which has permitted him to win an increasing majority of his board battles – not to mention a better base to hold his ground in the slot and exercise his shot .. not only possesses the good vision to distribute the puck – but is also an unselfish player by nature .. charges efficiently to the net and can put the puck on his weak side and still make a play, showcasing his overall strength – and ability to operate on all sides of his body .. can be a tyrant down low using his thick body to absorb checks, and is skilled at putting the puck in his skates to make a play .. excels sheltering the puck and then finding the open man .. would benefit from adding more of a physical dimension to his game .. will finish his checks, but doesn’t really go out of his way to do so .. his speed and quickness have notably improved as he appears a tad lighter on his skates – even though he still needs to develop his agility and use his edges more effectively .. a low-maintenance player and sound draft pick whose game is somewhat comparable to that of Boone Jenner, a Columbus second-rounder last summer.”

As we’ll see later, Boone Jenner is likely a very appropriate comparison for Horvat, both stylistically and statistically.

From Sportsnet.ca:

“Horvat is a wizard in the faceoff circle and a reliable defensive player. He plays a refined defensive game and worked well in the Knights’ trapping system. Horvat has an active stick that he uses to break up passing lanes and pickpocket the opposition in the neutral zone.

His offensive game also improved this season. He has a scorer’s instincts and touch around the net with a quick release on his wrist shot. Horvat also has the vision to spot the open man and is deadly as a playmaker. His complete, two-way game is reminiscent of Vancouver Canucks pivot, Ryan Kesler.

“Horvat was the player that grew on me the most as the season progressed,” said Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services. “He always looked like a very projectable two-way player, but really matured and cultivated his all-around game even further this year and now he looks like a future NHL captain. He has great passion and compete in his game and plays a consistent brand of hockey that isn’t easy for opponents to keep up with.

He’s a warrior and can do a bit of everything. He has tremendous hand-eye coordination and an unbelievably hard shot with a quick release. He is not a player you can give any room to in the offensive zone as he will burn you if you do. Horvat will need to continue to develop slightly, but if he remains at this development pace, it’s possible that we could still not fully realize his potential. He could be a real steal, regardless of where he goes in the first round.

“Bo Horvat is another great two-way player who can score some clutch goals,” adds David Burstyn, director of scouting for McKeen’s Hockey. “He was one of coach Dale Hunter’s favourites. Bo’s skating improved throughout the course of the year, especially diagonally and laterally. He still needs to work on some of his straight-ahead speed, but this is a player that just doesn’t give up. He’s always going to the front of the net to score greasy goals, he always back checks, blocks shots, takes valuable faceoffs. This is a guy that arguably played two minutes of the penalty kills and was also out on the power play, so he plays both special teams. He scored 33 goals, which is pretty impressive.”

From Hockey’s Future:

“Horvat’s bullish style of play garnered a lot of attention this year both in London and during the Knights’ run through the OHL playoffs. On a young team, Horvat stepped up and assumed a huge leadership responsibility, while showing his offensive bonafides. But what impresses observers most about Horvat is how hard he plays the game. He can score, but his truest strengths are defensive play and skill in the faceoff circle. Though he would be an ideal third-line centre in the NHL, Horvat could find himself on a team’s top six — as the sandpaper on an offensively gifted line. He could be lethal in that role as he has the hands and nose for the net to take advantage of the dirty areas of the net.”

From Corey Pronman, via Hockey Prospectus

“Horvat is one of the most complete forwards in this draft. He is tough, hard working, and defensively skilled, with enough offensive ability to project as a scoring line player. He was a top player for one of the best teams in the CHL. He is a good skater, with a technically sound stride, as he picks up speed quickly and easily. He is a strong, physical center who will lay the body, displaying the two-way work ethic NHL teams want to see. He is an aware penalty killer, good at faceoffs, and overall projects as a center who will start his shift in the defensive zone more often than not. 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.”

Reading these reports, you quickly get a sense that Horvat is almost the exact opposite of fellow top prospect Hunter Shinkaruk. Horvat isn’t an offensive dynamo and has never put up boxcars that scream “guaranteed NHLer” let alone “top-6 forward”, but he plays an incredibly strong two-way game, and is highly regarded for his faceoff and shot blocking (or “fenwick-suppressing,” if you will) abilities. He possesses a ton of physical strength, and uses this to win board battles and unleash a heavy shot.

A couple of things I also noticed when I saw Horvat at prospects camp were that he’s a very smooth puck handler – behind only the aforementioned Shinkaruk in puck skills among Canucks prospects by my eyes – and he carries the puck quite close to his body in traffic, making him incredibly difficult for a defender to pokecheck. He’s not the fastest guy around, but his speed looks good enough to get him around the ice, which is all that you really need. He’s also trimmed some weight from the nearly 220-lb frame he was reportedly carrying around last year in an effort to get quicker. Overall, as Corey Pronman noted, Horvat does a little bit of everything well.

Horvat was likely among the CHL’s premiere two-way forwards last season, and we know that his coach Dale Hunter loved to use him against other teams’ top players. He was hard-matched against Anthony Mantha, Kerby Rychel, and Henrik Samuelsson in the Memorial Cup, and our QoC estimates show that he faced among the toughest competition in the OHL through all of last year. We also know that London was among the OHL’s top possession teams last season, so between that, his role on the Knights, and his strong GoalsFor% (Josh Weissbock’s Elo +/- has Horvat 88th in the OHL last season), we can infer that Horvat likely was a strong possession player too.

Now that we’ve established what type of player Bo Horvat is, we have to look at what type of player Bo Horvat is likely to become. We’ve touched on this before, but admittedly not all that rigorously. The best way to project what a CHL player can become in the NHL is to build a number of close comparisons and analyze how these comparisons performed in their post-junior careers – chances are that the prospect in question will fall somewhere in this range, as we’ve previously theorized.

Of course, we’ll need to accurately and fairly compare players, but there’s only a limited amount of data that we can do this with, and the environment in which we’re comparing is in a constant state of change. We are pretty much restricted to looking at boxcar stats and relying on where a player was drafted as an analog for intangible stuff that boxcar stats don’t capture, but we can adjust these boxcars to account for a variety of variables that affect offensive production. Once we’ve made appropriate adjustments to scoring data, we can compare players on the basis of scoring, draft position, physical attributes, et cetera.

Copper & Blue took a stab at adjusting scoring rate for era before, concluding that Horvat’s closest draft year comparables were Travis Green, Bob Errey, David Latta, and Stefan Cherneski. This approach didn’t really account for draft age besides a subjective measure however, so I’m not too fond of it. I have also tried to adjust draft year scoring for age in the past, and determined that Horvat most closely compared to Kyle Chipchura, Peter Holland, and Alex Burmistrov. This exercise is also problematic though, as it only looked at 1st round draft picks, and only players in their first draft eligible CHL season. Bo Horvat now has a draft+1 season under his belt, so it’s only fair to compare him based on this information too.

So, as a service to Bo Horvat, I’ve built an entirely new comparison model. Since some young players play in the NHL in their draft+1 seasons, this new model compares players on the basis of Age and Era Adjusted Combined Draft and Draft+1 Year NHL or Equivalent Points Per Game. But that’s a pain in the ass to type and annoying to read, so we’ll call it Adjusted Scoring (because AEACDD+1NHLoEPPG looks stupid). 

I looked at every single player to play in the OHL between 1990-91 and 2013-14 (a big thanks to Josh Weissbock for his data scraping skills and to Petbugs for his Excel expertise!), adjusted their draft year and draft+1 year scoring for the era they played in using the method described when we looked at Sam Reinhart here, then adjusted again for intra-draft year age using the method described here (side note: because of some tweaks to the methodology, I used more than the one adjustment constant I described in that article as I have now split up D and Forwards and age-adjusted for 18-year old seasons as well. Also, the values of the adjustment constants have been changed from 0.1672. I’ll post a more detailed explanation for the six of you who care later though).

After, I converted draft year and draft+1 year adjusted points per game to NHL equivalent total points, or simply added NHL totals if the player played in the NHL as an 18-year old, and divided by the number of games a prospect played to get their final Adjusted Scoring. Now that we’ve got the methodology crap out of the way, here are Bo Horvat’s closest comparable players for his CHL career to date:

They’re sorted by closeness to Horvat, but they’re all within plus or minus 10% of his Adjusted Scoring, plus or minus two inches in height, and drafted within the first 100 picks of the NHL entry draft, so everyone on this list is, for all intents and purposes, essentially statistically identical.

I wouldn’t say that there’s a lot of star power on this list, but Cory Stillman, Mike Peca, Mike Fisher, Chris Stewart, Brandon Saad, and Ryan O’Reilly were/are really, really good players. I think it’s fair to say then that a player like this is Bo Horvat’s ceiling – an extremely useful forward that’s a valuable part of a deep group, best suited to playing support on a good team, just as Horvat has been doing in London for the past two seasons. Guys like Raffi Torres, Mikkel Boedker, Dan Cleary, Ethan Moreau, Jan Bulis(!), and Cal Clutterbuck are also useful depth forwards that most teams would like (/have liked) to have, but guys like Petr Taticek and Brandon Convery serve as a reminder that there’s still plenty of time for things to go wrong with Horvat’s development.

Removing the young guys who haven’t really had time to solidify NHL jobs for themselves, the average player in this group has played 295 NHL games, scored 58 goals and 73 assists, for 0.444 points per game, which equates to 36 points per 82 games, or high-end third line to low-end second line production. If you make the safe assumption that Horvat’s pedigree pushes him towards the top end of this group though, there’s an easy argument to be made that he’s at least an average offensive 2nd line centre in the prime of his career with the plus-plus-defensive upside he’s demonstrated in the OHL – a tough commodity to find on the open market.

Since the time he was drafted, I’ve personally moved from “Bo Horvat is likely a 3rd line C” to “Bo Horvat is likely at least a 3rd line C,” and the data seems to back this up. Horvat took significant strides in the past season to become a more complete two-way player – remember, defensive specialists are only one way players too! – and saw his offensive output grow in a way that guys like Brendan Gaunce and Nicklas Jensen have yet to realize. 

Even if Horvat goes back to London this season for another shot at the Memorial Cup and World Junior gold, and even if Hunter Shinkaruk and Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann have monster seasons next year and overtake him the next time our Prospect Profile series rolls around, Bo Horvat has solidified himself as a very, very good prospect. Here’s to hoping his development goes perfectly.

Remember: no pressure, kid.

OTHER PROFILES IN THIS SERIES:

(Check back in tomorrow for a final note wrapping up the series!)

  • Ragnarok Ouroboros

    I always enjoy reading the prospect profiles each year. That said, if Vancouver’s number 1 prospect projects as a 3rd line center and at best a 2nd line center, what does that say about the rest of the Canuck’s prospects?

    Would this mean that Vancouver’s other prospects don’t project to be better than a 3rd line player, or possibly a second line player? If so, then Vancouver’s future doesn’t seem as bright as I first thought.

    If there are other prospects that project to be a solid second line player and perhaps a first line player, then why wouldn’t they be ranked higher than Horvat?

    Don’t mark me down, instead give me some insight on why Vancouver’s future is bright.
    Cheers.