Kuzma: Bo knows it’s Canucks or junior (with video)
Make or break: Ninth-overall draft pick Horvat is too young to play in the American Hockey League
Bo Horvat during 2014 Vancouver Canucks Summer Development Camp at UBC in Vancouver, B.C., July 7, 2014.
Photograph by: Arlen Redekop, PNG
Bo knows. Or at least he thinks he knows.
One look at the Vancouver Canucks’ depth and Bo Horvat could easily resign himself to slogging through another OHL season. As a 19-year-old Canadian Hockey League centre who hasn’t completed four years of major-junior play — he has three with the London Knights — the ninth-overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft isn’t old enough to play minor-pro and join the AHL Utica Comets. Without four years of major junior behind him, he would need to be 20 years old by Dec. 31 to play in the AHL. Horvat turns 20 next April.
He is old enough — but perhaps not good enough — to be in the NHL though.
But Bo also knows Henrik Sedin, Nick Bonino, Linden Vey and Brad Richardson are slotted ahead of him down the middle and that Shawn Matthias and Brendan Gaunce can play centre and wing.
“You try not to think of that but it’s in the back of your mind,” Horvat said Monday as the Canucks development camp opened at UBC. “You just have to play your game.”
Bo also knows in conversation with new Canucks coach Willie Desjardins that the roster will be built on merit and not seniority or contract security. And Bo knows he doesn’t want to be the answer to a trivia question in the Cory Schneider trade. He wants to be an exclamation mark, not a question mark.
“I feel I’m pretty close and it’s all up to me,” added Horvat. “I’ve had three years of junior and won two OHL championships and have been to three Memorial Cups. And I’ve played at the world junior. I’ve met all the Canucks staff and their mindset is positive. It’s all up to me now. Willie wants me to work my way on to the roster and that’s something I have to take control of.”
With the Canucks trying to balance getting back to the playoffs with developing youth, Horvat will have do make a pre-season impact. You can argue he’d be better off in a professional environment and learn to excel on the ice and in the gym. You can argue that measured minutes on the fourth line — even on the wing — is better than going back to junior where he has nothing left to prove. Or does he? He would get major minutes, put in a leadership role and continue to work on quickness that may have him a step behind NHL competition. Horvat is currently 220 pounds, and the 6-foot centre wants to work on explosiveness and get down to 215 by main camp.
“He’s going to have to earn a spot and then we’ll have to make some tough decisions,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning. “He’s good on faceoffs and a good penalty killer. He’ll block shots is good defensively and wins battles. If he goes back (OHL), he’ll be one of the better players in the league. If that’s what ends up happening, that’s not the end of the world either. He’s going to be a very important guy for us and we want to make sure we’re developing him properly.”
Adversity might be Horvat’s best building block. He had but one goal and two assists as Canada finished a disappointing fourth at the 2014 world junior championship and collected 30 goals and 74 points in 54 OHL games. Horvat added five goals and 11 points in nine post-season games, but the Knights were bounced in the second round by eventual Memorial Cup runner-up Guelph Storm. The Memorial Cup hosts then bottomed out by going 0-3 and Horvat went pointless.
“Most of the games, I found we were outplaying the other teams and doing everything but score,” he said. “It was one of those tournaments, but no excuses. You have to learn from the those experiences. Maybe do something different if you’re in that situation again.”
Horvat has always processed the game well. He was thrust into an OHL leadership role this past season by wearing an ‘A’ for the first time. Add the pressure of playing in one of Canada’s most-successful junior hockey markets and it’s hard to imagine Horvat being too overwhelmed by his second Canucks camp. The Knights are owned by former NHL players Dale and Mark Hunter, who serve as president/head coach and vice-president/general manager respectively. They set the performance bar high.
“They treat you like pros in a junior facility,” said Horvat. “They know what it takes to get you there (NHL). I’ve always had a feel for the game since I was young and playing a two-way game — and having the Hunters — has definitely helped my game.”
Desjardins coached Derek Dorsett and Vey in junior at Medicine Hat. He has heard good things about Horvat and saw some of them on the ice Monday. But those were just skill and skating sessions.
“He’s a quality player and that will come out during (main) camp,” said Desjardins. “You watch little things today, his attention to detail and how he is with other guys. I don’t think you can take an awful lot out of it. It’s amazing to see the skill level, but you can have all the skill in the world — you have to translate it into a game.”
© Copyright (c) The Province