With the Vancouver Canucks seemingly short of quality forwards — given the injuries to Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and the man who likely would have been the replacement for anyone injured in Niklas Jensen — you have to wonder whether they ever think about their decision to send Bo Horvat back to junior so quickly.
And you wonder particularly because of the early success enjoyed by some of the forwards from this most recent draft, like Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Elias Lindholm (who has fought through an early minor shoulder injury to score his first NHL goal) and most notably Sean Monahan in Calgary.
Is the drop-off from Monahan at sixth overall to Horvat at No. 9 so significant, particularly given the latter’s apparent physical maturity?
When you look at the Canucks depth chart up front, it’s entirely likely Horvat is the third best centre in the organization because the streaking Mike Santorelli is really needed on the wing now more than ever given these injuries and the no-show staged by David Booth.
Brad Richardson has been very solid, particularly killing penalties, but there’s no question the team look would be radically different were you to throw a promising, competent centre into the mix. There would be no need to be playing the Sedins more than 21 minutes a game and to be sending Ryan Kesler out for 28 minutes to beat the Islanders.
At the very least, you have to wonder what the rush was to get Horvat back to junior, where by all accounts he’s playing extremely well. Surely it wasn’t money, because the team is solid when it comes to managing room they have or don’t have under the cap. And his stay may well have been for just the nine allowed games anyway, although those nine games might not yet have been used up yet if they were being careful spotting him into the lineup.
And you can be assured it wasn’t to save burning a year on his contract so as to make sure he didn’t reach free agency that one year sooner if they were to keep him the whole season because GM Mike Gillis is always confident he will be able to sign his players.
He’s demonstrated consistently that he always can sign them and sign them at rates favourable to the team. It’s clearly one of his strengths and let’s be clear, that year in question is well down the road and any expectation that Gillis will still be here when that year comes into play is premature to say the least.
What’s odd is that letting Horvat play at least nine games here would have been an excellent experience, just to let him know what a regular NHL game feels like. After all, they believe in showing players the level they need to get to so as to give them something of a measuring stick. They did it when they played Jensen two games in the NHL last year even though he looked overmatched. They’ve done it with Michael Grabner, Jordan Schroeder and lots of others.
But with Horvat, it was a closed book. They were so determined that he would return to junior immediately that they didn’t even give him decent linemates in the preseason, almost to make sure he didn’t show anything and thus create any fan pressure to keep him.
While Hunter Shinkaruk danced around with lots of players with offensive capabilities and showed excellent promise, Horvat played with a series of fourth liners and minor leaguers almost to the point where the kid must have wondered whether the team actually remembered he was a first round draft pick they got for Cory Schneider.
Shinkaruk was nowhere near physically mature enough to play in the league this year and everyone knew that. He was being bounced around like a rubber ball. Having him stay here was a non-starter and rightfully so. But even though nobody bounced Horvat, the determination to stick slavishly to this plan prevailed no matter what, just the way another Detroit imitator, Steve Yzerman, did with Jonathan Drouin in Tampa.
Now, maybe this is the best decision for Horvat, his development and the franchise, there’s ample precedent for the team’s approach. Maybe Calgary will regret its decision to keep Monahan and both Florida and Colorado will feel the same way about Barkov and MacKinnon at some point.
But is 28 minutes for Kesler a better plan for the franchise than keeping Horvat around, at least for a while?
© Copyright (c) The Province