The Horvat Conundrum

Bo Horvat was the ninth overall pick in 2013’s NHL Draft.

The Canucks have an interesting problem, and for once, it does not have to do with a lack of prospects. In fact, it’s the opposite: too many prospects and too little room. Specifically, I’m talking about Bo Horvat and the difficulty he presents.

Frankly, the AHL is the proper place for Horvat. He wouldn’t be pressured to be NHL-ready too fast, and he would become accustomed to playing in a professional league against men not boys, if you’ll pardon the expression.

However, there is a rule that prevents players aged 20 and under from going to the minor leagues unless they have already played four years in the junior leagues (CHL).

Now, the Canucks have to decide whether they want to bring Horvat up to the big leagues — where he would most likely play fourth-line minutes as he may not yet be NHL ready — or to send him back to juniors to essentially waste a year.

Horvat is the only prospect who is really stuck in this situation. The Canucks may be full on paper, but the other prospects who might be ready to contend for a spot on the team — such as Hunter Shinkaruk or Brendan Gaunce — have played four years in junior, and can go down to the AHL, where they can be called up at any time.

It also looks as though Horvat will shape up to be a possible shutdown forward, not necessarily lacking an offensive edge, but certainly showing more potential in his defensive game, which doesn’t necessarily help his position.

Typically, players who are more defence-oriented require some time in the AHL. To be fair, all players could use AHL time, but it’s usually the high scoring — or potentially high scoring — first-rounders who make the NHL right out juniors, not the defence-first potential future Selke winners.

In what doesn’t seem to be a very controversial opinion, I think that the ruling preventing junior-eligible players from playing in the AHL should be thrown out.

Perhaps the rule helps the CHL retain players, as opposed to watching them bolt when drafted. Or maybe it is meant to protect the players from being sent to the big leagues before they are ready.

But at the end of the day, we’re talking about player development. Oftentimes, a draft bust, or a player not reaching their full potential, can be attributed to rushing that player out of the juniors, straight into the NHL.

The rule, as it stands, forces teams to make a hard decision: either rush the player into the NHL, or leave him in the juniors to waste a crucial developmental year. Playing in the AHL would be a much better option in this case.

Luckily, the situation isn’t that dramatic this time around. Horvat can still play nine games in the NHL before his entry-level contract kicks in — he could still be returned to the juniors after getting a taste of the big leagues with no consequence (which seems like the likely outcome).

But there should be another choice. If the rule is in place to protect players, then it defeats its own purpose, forcing players to either develop too quickly or stall completely. If the rule is to protect the CHL, it could be adjusted to allow only first round picks to play in the AHL (players most likely to have outgrown the junior level). A change such as this could lead to fewer draft busts and a few more players reaching their full potential.