It’s that time of year again. With the 2013 NHL Draft just over a month away, let’s start looking toward the next crop of exciting young stars. Barring any trades, the Maple Leafs are poised to select 21st overall after a successful season and noisy, albeit shortened, playoff run. To achieve any form of sustained success in today’s NHL, organizations absolutely have to capitalize on their late first round selections in order to create a constant stream of affordable, quality talent to the big league team. With their strong depth across all levels of the farm system, the Maple Leafs can afford to go any which way with this selection. Let’s start with shutdown centre Bo Horvat.

Bo Horvat – Centre, London Knights – Projected 10th – 15th overall

Horvat has been on the scouting radar for a long time, but no player has raised his stock has much as Bo over the past 2 months. The youngster was selected 9th overall by the London Knights in the 2011 OHL Priority Draft and has since blossomed into a dynamic two-way player.  The 6’0 200 lb centre/winger is a strong on his skates, battles in the corners and has been groomed as one of the best shutdown centres junior hockey has been in recent years. Horvat has grown up modeling his game after former Selke finalist Mike Richards and it certainly shows on the ice. His proficiency in faceoffs, shot blocking, back-checking and on-ice leadership earned him an assistant captaincy for the gold medal winning U-18 team at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka tournament. Offensively, Horvat is a consistent and solid producer with a good shot, reasonable playmaking instincts and willingness to drive the net. There is some potential for more but he will likely never be a top flight NHL scorer.

These 2013 OHL playoffs should tell you all you need to know about Horvat. In the Western Conference Final, the Knights relied heavily on him to shut down regular season scoring champion Vince Trochek (109 points in 69 GP). Horvat simply outclassed Trochek, limiting him to just 3 points in propelling the Knights to an easy 5 game romping over the Plymouth Whalers. He eventually lead the Knights to an OHL Championship, including an impressive 2 goal performance in a 3-2 victory during game 7 of the Final. His game winning second goal? Try with less than a second left in regulation time in the seventh and deciding game. Not bad. Oh and he took home OHL Playoff MVP honours as well.

Horvat shares many similarities to playoff warriors such as Shane Doan, Ryan Kesler and of course Mike Richards. Once again, in my eyes, Horvat is perhaps the best shutdown centre that junior hockey has seen in recent years. Every spring, as a I prepare for the draft season and tune in for the junior hockey playoff runs, I begin to identify a player as “my guy” – that is a player whom I believe is significantly undervalued at his current draft position. For NHL Draft 2013, this is my guy.