The Vancouver Canucks wanted to get off to a good start in 2022-23 and avoid the drama and turmoil of last season. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened and they are on pace to post an even worse record by the time Dec. 6 (the date Travis Green was fired) rolls around. Currently 5-9-3 and two points ahead of last place held by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks, some fans and analysts have uttered the word “rebuild” coupled with the suggestion that only Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes should be considered untouchable.
The name on everyone’s lips when it comes to trade rumors lately is none other than captain Bo Horvat, the man who is one goal back of Connor McDavid in the Rocket Richard Trophy race and is currently in the last year of a six-year contract he signed back in 2017. At a budget-friendly $5.5 million cap hit, that number figures to skyrocket in free agency, whether he signs with the Canucks or not. On that front, things haven’t gone according to plan as talks have apparently stalled, thus initiating trade speculation and even a declaration from Craig Button saying, “It appears to me Horvat is done [in Vancouver].”
With how productive Horvat has been this season along with his age and well-rounded game – not to mention his proficiency on faceoffs, he should fetch a pretty significant package if the Canucks were to trade him. So with that in mind, I am starting a series of articles exploring different targets from teams that could use him and his skill set.
First up, the Blue Jackets, which Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff recently mentioned on Halford & Brough in the Morning as someone that could have an interest in Horvat. They already have a plethora of high-end prospects in their system but are missing a legitimate top-six center to complement the likes of veterans Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine (who aren’t getting any younger). While it could be argued that they should just “tank” and wait for Connor Bedard, Leo Carlsson, or Adam Fantilli in the 2023 Draft, a guy like Horvat could help accelerate the rebuild and avoid having Gaudreau and Laine out of their primes when their young core is ready to compete.
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So, with all that said, here are three Blue Jackets the Canucks should be targeting as centerpieces in any trade involving their captain and leading goalscorer.
The Canucks need right-hand shot defencemen, no scratch that, they need defencemen period. Especially ones that are young, can move the puck and are good defensively. 18-year-old David Jiricek fits that description to a tee. Drafted sixth overall in the 2022 Draft by the Blue Jackets, he checks all the boxes of a blueliner that could one day pair with Quinn Hughes on a superstar top-pairing a la Cale Makar and Devon Toews.
Since he’s a European prospect, Jiricek was able to turn pro with the Cleveland Monsters this season and has looked pretty good so far with five assists in seven games. He also made his NHL debut on Oct. 28 against the Boston Bruins, a game he recorded 15:35 of ice time with a shot on goal and a minus-1 in the plus/minus column. He followed that up with another game on Oct. 30 in a 7-1 loss to the red-hot New Jersey Devils, again playing around 15 minutes, but this time logging three shots on goal and a minus-3. He was sent back down to the Monsters on Nov. 7.
Clearly still developing, Jiricek seems to have figured out the AHL, as he has only been a minus in one game this season so far. But as we all know, the NHL is a different beast. But Jiricek’s size, mobility, hockey IQ, and two-way game should serve him well in the future as he continues to develop into that legitimate top-pairing defenceman everyone is projecting him to be. Don’t forget, he also has to adjust to life in North America and the smaller ice, which doesn’t offer much in terms of time and space when compared to the rinks overseas.
All in all, if the Canucks want to upgrade their blue line in a supposed rebuild, Jiricek is the type of defenceman they should be targeting. He might not help their fortunes now, but he definitely will in the future.
If the Canucks can’t get Jarmo Kekäläinen to part with Jiricek, they should shift their focus to the forward group and North Vancouver native Kent Johnson. Now Patrik Allvin will probably have to throw a sweetener into the pot to get his counterpart to agree, but Johnson would be well worth it. Probably one of the most creative prospects in the NHL right now, he has a bag of tricks that rival the likes of Pavel Datsyuk.
“Johnson is as creative as they come. Whether it’s passing and shooting between his legs, lacrosse moves, or anything else you’d find on a highlight reel, if you can dream it, he can probably do it…” – Bailey Johnson, Smaht Scouting
Johnson is good defensively too and has the size and strength to compete in the NHL. With three goals and seven points so far this season, he is still figuring things out, but will eventually become an elite top-six talent that could pair well with Pettersson down the road. Again, if the Canucks are rebuilding, they need to grab prospects/young players like him to potentially build a Stanley Cup contender in the not-so-distant future. While it might be a pipe dream to pry him away from the Blue Jackets, Allvin should be shooting for the stars considering Horvat’s trade value right now.
If the Canucks decide to move on from Horvat, they’re going to need someone to replace him. Enter Cole Sillinger. Surprisingly making the Blue Jackets out of training camp last season and scoring 16 goals and 31 points in 79 games, he made fans forget about the fact that their team had no true top-line center. Unfortunately, he has seemingly hit the dreaded “sophomore slump” since then as he only has one goal and four points in 15 games so far. However, people forget he’s not the typical sophomore being 19 years old and having played his first full NHL season immediately following his draft year.
Sillinger still has tremendous upside in the NHL as a first-line center. With his elite shot, two-way game, and mature attitude, I have no doubt he will break through this slump and be a better player for it.
“When that term, ‘second-year slump,’ comes up, it just bothers me…I don’t really see it that way. There’s no reason for those things to happen. I mean, it’s the very start of our season and I don’t anticipate it being any harder. It’s still going to be hard. Nothing’s going to be given to you. You’ve got to earn everything and I’m looking to do that this year” (from ‘Columbus Blue Jackets’ Cole Sillinger ‘fighting it’ with slow start to second NHL season’, Brian Hedger –The Columbus Dispatch, 10/25/22).
Sillinger might actually have a higher ceiling than Horvat since he has a better wrist shot and playmaking ability. However, the one thing Sillinger might never be able to replace is Horvat’s faceoff prowess as he only has a career faceoff percentage of 46.1 percent. Horvat, on the other hand, has never dropped below 50 percent in a season and has an average of 53.7 percent in his career. That’s not to say Sillinger can’t improve in that aspect of his game over time, it’s just that the Canucks won’t get that right away with him.
All of these targets might be tough for Allvin to grab from Kekäläinen, but if Horvat is in fact in play when it comes to the Blue Jackets, these are the types of players he should be asking for. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think the Canucks should be trading him, but if there’s no path to an extension and a long-term future in Vancouver, then Allvin needs to sell high and grab as many high-end assets as he can before Horvat walks in free agency. A package centered around Jiricek, Johnson, or Sillinger would be a good place to start.
What players from the Blue Jackets do you think the Canucks should target in a hypothetical Horvat trade? Let us know in the comments below!
Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.