Spector: Gillis, Canucks need Horvat to blossom

The Canucks haven't added a first-line talent at forward since Ryan Kesler and the Sedin twins.

PENTICTON — It is a lot to ask of a young man, to wade into a major Canadian market as a first-round, franchise player, and never make a misstep throughout the maturing process.

Ask Toronto’s Nazem Kadri these days. Or Cody Hodgson, whose family friction and second opinions from outside doctors made him a Buffalo Sabre before he ever really got a foothold as a Vancouver Canuck.

There is pressure being that guy in that town, no matter what the situation.

Then there is Bo Horvat in Vancouver.

He arrived at ground zero of the nuclear screw up that was the Roberto Luongo ordeal. He is the sole positive to come out of losing a budding star that was seven years younger than Luongo in Cory Schneider, and being stuck with “The Contract.” Not to mention returning a goalie that everyone involved had hoped would be wearing a different uniform this fall.

Add to the fact that Horvat is relatively alone atop the prospect heap in Vancouver, a team that has not drafted, developed, and retained any forwards with first-line pedigree since the Sedins and Ryan Kesler.

“I feel like I’m ready for it,” said Horvat, who is likely better off to avoid focusing on the totality of the road that lies ahead in Vancouver.

He is that complete player whom every general manager at the 2013 draft saw merit in; a player that general manager Mike Gillis staked his reputation on when he took less by some margin than the Edmonton Oilers were offering, and traded Schneider to New Jersey for the No. 9 overall pick.

This week, Horvat will arrive in Vancouver for training camp, and all eyes will be on him.

“If any kid that I know could handle that much pressure, it’s him,” said running mate and fellow 2013 first-rounder Hunter Shinkaruk. “He’s a grounded kid, really humble. He puts expectations on himself that are higher, I’m sure, than a lot of fans are going to put on him. We joke around about it, but if anyone can do it, it’s going to be him.”

Shinkaruk, of course, was accrued with the Canucks’ own first-round pick last June. He may turn out to be Robin to Horvat’s Batman, or at least, that trusty sidekick that can deflect some of the glare.

The two 18-year-olds share the same agency (Newport Sports), though not the same agent. They were drafted the same day by the same team, and signed to identical three-year entry-level deals that were announced by the Canucks in the same press release.

At the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, they played on the same line, and had dressing room stalls side by each other in the room that will soon be inhabited again by the Junior A Penticton Vees.

“With us getting drafted by the same team in the same round, signing the same day, going to world junior camp, we’re really good buddies,” said Shinkaruk, the Calgary native who seems to be over being snubbed on draft day by his hometown Flames. “We want that opportunity to hopefully play together. It’s been nice to go through this process with him.”

It has been a time here in Penticton for the Canucks and their media to get to know Horvat, the highest Canucks draft pick since Daniel and Henrik went at No. 2 and 3 respectively back in 1999.

Horvat is a product of the London Knights’ junior program — “They prepare you to be a pro. They put pressure on you to be that kind of guy,” Horvat said, where he will likely return for his 19-year-old season as London hosts the Memorial Cup.

That junior opportunity is the pressure valve at Horvat’s first pro camp, even with the Canucks looking for a No. 3 centre behind Henrik and Kesler. The developmental opportunities that await Horvat back in junior likely dictate that this Rodney, Ont. kid not be rushed.

“It’s nice to have something to fall back on, a Memorial Cup appearance right away. My third one in a row, actually,” he notes. “And maybe World Junior. But your main goal is to make that (Vancouver) club.

“This (Canucks) camp is something I’ve looked forward to, worked towards all of my life. It’s going to be something special.”

The Canucks are hoping it is the start of something special indeed.

They have a lot staked on this young man. Vancouver needs for Bo Horvat to be everything he is stacked up to be.

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