VANCOUVER – It’s a situation not of his making, but Bo Horvat understands the quandary he faces with the Vancouver Canucks.
Until the first-round NHL draft pick proves his value to the rabid Canuck fan base, Horvat will be identified as the player Vancouver received in the trade for goaltender Cory Schneider.
Trying to replace one of the Canucks’ more popular figures is a big load to carry, even for someone with Horvat’s wide shoulders.
“I don’t think there is any pressure,” Horvat said Wednesday. “I’m trying not to think about it too much. It’s always going to be out there and everyone is going to be asking how I feel about it.
“I’m just going out there and playing my game and do what I do best. I want to focus on my game and prove I can be part of the Vancouver Canuck organization and prove to everyone they made the right decision.”
Only time will tell if the Horvat trade will pay the same dividends as the draft-day dealings that saw Daniel and Henrik Sedin come to Vancouver. It could also come back to haunt the Canucks, like the trade that sent Cam Neely and a first-round draft pick to Boston for Barry Pederson.
For now, the six-foot, 211-pound centre with the OHL London Knights is content to be one of 38 young players attending the Canucks’ prospect camp this week at Rogers’ Arena.
“I’m just trying to sink in everything I learn here,” said the 18-year-old who grew up in Rodney, Ont. “They are doing a great job of getting us prepared for what is coming in the future, whether it’s main camp or next season.”
Canuck general manager Mike Gillis made the decision to trade Schneider after over a year of fruitless efforts to deal Roberto Luongo and his huge contract. The Canucks dealt Schneider to New Jersey on draft day for the Devils’ No. 9 pick, which they used to take Horvat.
Horvat fits the bill for several Canuck needs. He’s a big centre who scored 33 goals and added 28 assists in 67 regular-season games for the Knights. He also was named the most valuable player of the OHL playoffs.
With many of their key players over 30 years old, the Canucks want to get younger.
“That’s great to hear,” said Horvat. “I know a lot of teams in the NHL are going younger now.
“To hear that . . . it really makes we want to work that much harder to prove myself, that I can be in the lineup.”
Not every first-round pick is ready for prime time in the NHL, but Horvat confidently talks like he could play with Vancouver this year.
“I feel I’m ready,” he said. “There’s always things I have to work on and can get better at.
“I want to go out there and prove . . . I can stay up this year.”
The prospect camp involves the typical on-ice drills. There are also some not so typical off-ice activities like mixed martial arts training, yoga sessions and a trip up the gruelling Grouse Grind, a three-kilometre hike that climbs more than 850 metres.
“It was something,” said Horvat. “You keep staring at a mountain for two miles.
“It’s definitely a grind. I’m glad I can say I’ve done it now.”
Horvat laughed when asked about his yoga skills.
“They are a little shaky,” he said. “I have to start working on that and get a little more flexible.
“It was a great experience. I haven’t done yoga like that before.”
Horvat was one of several prospects who visited BC Children’s Hospital Wednesday to meet the young patients and hand out hockey cards. Joining him was another Vancouver prospect who has spent time in the Canuck dressing room before.
Cole Cassels, selected 85th overall from the OHL Oshawa Generals, is the son of Andrew Cassels, who spent three of his 16 NHL seasons in Vancouver. He remembers coming to practices with his father.
“The Sedins were really young, they were my age I think,” said the 18-year-old who had 15 goals and 43 points in 64 games last season for Oshawa.
Cassels considers himself a play-making centre.
“I use my teammates well,” he said. “They seem to get open for me. I can put the puck on their stick. I think my hockey sense is one of my better attributes.”
Being a later-round pick, Cassels also knows his game needs improving.
“I need to be a lot stronger,” said the six foot, 178-pound native of Columbus, Ohio.
“Quicker and stronger. Maybe get a little bit more selfish and shoot the puck some more.”
Growing up Cassels wanted to follow his father into the NHL but never thought he would end up a Canuck.
“When you are young you are just dreaming about it,” he said. “When you are 17 or 18, it becomes a reality.
“The thought never popped in my head I would be in the same room he was.”