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Gillis on Horvat: ‘Rare that you can pick someone…you're that confident in’

Nearly ten years after the Vancouver Canucks traded Cory Schneider to draft him, Bo Horvat is on his way to the New York Islanders.
Bo Horvat dons a Vancouver Canucks hat after being selected ninth overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Nearly ten years after the Vancouver Canucks traded Cory Schneider to draft him, Bo Horvat is on his way to the New York Islanders.

He was acquired by the same general manager who initially traded him — or at least the draft pick used to select him — in the first place. Lou Lamoriello was the GM of the New Jersey Devils back in 2013 and wanted to make a splash with the draft being hosted in New Jersey. 

Couple that with Martin Brodeur turning 40 and the Devils needing a successor and the opportunity was right for Lamoriello to make a blockbuster deal, trading the ninth-overall pick to the Canucks for Schneider.

Now Lamoriello is the GM of the Islanders and made another blockbuster deal to bring Horvat to Long Island. There’s even a chance that the first-round pick included in the deal turns into a top-10 pick — if the Islanders miss the playoffs this season and get a top-12 pick, the Canucks get the Islanders’ unprotected 2024 first-round pick instead. 

Whatever else one thinks of the trade return for Horvat, it’s clearly focused on the future, with the first-round pick and a promising 20-year-old prospect in Aatu Räty. It remains to be seen if this is a one-off trade that the Canucks felt they had to make or if it’s the first step of a larger plan to rebuild or retool the Canucks, whatever president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin want to call it.

There’s a certain irony to the fact that trading Horvat away would be the first step of a rebuild/retool when trading for him was supposed to be the first step in a plan to rebuild the Canucks ten years ago. 

"We didn't know if he would be there at nine."

Cory Schneider was intended to be the first of several dominos to fall, as then-GM Mike Gillis was intent on making more trades to kickstart a rebuild of the Canucks.

While that rebuild never happened, there’s a reason that Horvat was targeted as the first piece of the puzzle. I caught up with former Canucks general manager Mike Gillis recently for a book I am working on about the Canucks’ history at the NHL Entry Draft. Naturally, we talked a lot about Horvat.

“Our plan was to pick Horvat if we could get a pick in the top 10,” said Gillis, explaining that the trade with the Devils wouldn’t have happened if Horvat wasn’t available. “We didn’t know if he would be there at nine…We didn’t think he would be there, quite frankly.”

The trade entirely hinged on whether Horvat was still available at ninth overall. The Canucks tried to get an even higher pick, in fact, concerned that another team might swoop in and take Horvat.

“We thought Bo was a top-six or seven pick,” said Gillis.

That’s intriguing because not a single public draft ranking had Horvat higher than tenth overall. The Canucks’ high view of Horvat has been vindicated in the past decade, with redrafts of 2013 typically bumping Horvat into the top five.

"He was going to play [at least] 400 games in the NHL."

It’s understandable why the public rankings might not be as high on Horvat. He fell short of a point per game in the OHL in his draft year with 61 points in 67 games, 26 points behind his London Knights teammate Max Domi, who went 12th overall in 2013. Horvat did add 16 goals and 23 points in 21 playoff games. 

The Canucks, however, saw a player who was a sure bet to not just make the NHL but have a long career. 

“No matter what was going to happen, he was going to play [at least] 400 games in the NHL,” said Gillis. “There's no denying that he had the strength, he had the size, he had the work ethic, the attitude. Barring some catastrophic injury of some sort or something completely unpredictable happening, he was going to be a second or third-line centre in the National Hockey League, no matter what. It's pretty rare that you can pick someone from 6-to-10 who you're that confident in.”

Horvat was the type of player who was honest with himself about his areas of weakness and was going to work tirelessly to get better. 

“His skating was a bit of an issue, but we thought he would work as hard as he possibly could to overcome any deficiencies in his game,” said Gillis. “He's proud, he was a leader — he had the intangible factors that we were pretty confident was going to lead to a long and strong NHL career.”

"There was never going to be a lack of effort."

Gillis admitted that he never expected Horvat to score at his current 50-goal pace, but noted that Horvat had the necessary attitude to consistently improve and become that type of player.

“What went into creating that is not unique; he was identified as a guy who was going to work his way through problems,” said Gillis. “There was never going to be a lack of effort or having to kick him to move him along. He was going to do what was necessary to be a contributor.”

Horvat certainly goes down as one of the best first-round picks in Canucks history, behind only the Sedins and Trevor Linden in franchise scoring by a Canucks first-round pick. With 201 goals and 420 points, Horvat is eighth all-time in franchise goalscoring and tenth all-time in points.

More than just the points, Horvat was a leader during one of the most difficult eras of Canucks hockey, having to navigate through not only missing the playoffs in eight of his nine seasons in Vancouver but also a global pandemic and difficult political issues.  

There’s a reason why Horvat was targeted as the first piece of a potential rebuild. It’s a shame that the Canucks never built a contending team on top of his foundation in his decade in the Canucks organization. Now he’ll bring his work ethic, character, and leadership to another team.