Roman Horak was traded to Calgary a little over a year ago along with two second round picks in the draft (Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon) from the New York Rangers, and at the time not much was being praised about the return for the Flames blue chip prospect, Tim Erixon. As the anger subsided and more people began to learn more about the new youngster, there grew a sense of optimism; especially given the history of how he played with another (then) highly touted prospect, Ryan Howse.
In his rookie season with the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins, Horak scored 21 goals and 47 pts, not too bad. It was in his second season that he flourished. Though he only scored five more goals (26), he registered 52 assists to give him 78 pts in 64 games. His 1.22 PPG can largely be attributed to playing alongside a triggerman like Howse, but Horak also displayed that he had a natural raw vision of the game of where he needed to be in relation to where the puck was along with his teammates.
*Reminder – The evaluators were asked to rank players, and we sorted the rankings via a simple point scale-number 15 on each list got one point, while number 1 on each list got 15. The criteria for who was included was pretty simple: players the Flames control who are 23 and under (excluding Mikael Backlund, since he’s already a bona fide NHLer).
Horak was given every opportunity with the big club this past season and in the beginning he looked like he was going to take full advantage. In fact, his performance in his first ten games, where he netted five points in seven games, had the fans smiling and forgetting all about Tim What’s-his-name. The circumstances of how he got those points as well had fans optimistic. Initially Roman was seeing about a 40% offensive zone start and a high winning face-off percentage. He was getting the attention of both the coaching staff and his linemates.
"He’s a good kid. He’s a smart kid. He wants to learn every day and he’s asking questions (about) what he can do better, to be a better player. It’s great to see a young guy who wants to learn. He works hard every day." – Olli Jokinen
Unfortunately, Horak’s blazing start would burn out. Over his remaining 51 games, Roman would only score one more goal and three assists. As Roman’s play began to tail off, so too the confidence Brent Sutter had in him, to the point where he spent time in the pressbox and even a demotion back to Abbotsford. He didn’t spend too much time in the minors and returned to the lineup, though it’s tough to say if the recall was based on his play or need due to the injuries piling up with the parent squad.
By the end of the season, Roman had seen his zone starts go from 60% in the defensive zone to a 50/50 split, meaning his ice time was a bit more sheltered. What really changed was the rookie’s time on the ice though: In his first twenty games, Horak was seeing roughly 12-13 minutes a night. In his last twenty, that time dropped to on average to about 8:30 per night.
By no means is Horak necessarily to be a ten game flash in the pan. Over the course of the season he showed that he is a smart player with the potential for development. He is a pretty good skater with decent speed with good hands; he has timing in that he is not going to be likely to cough up the puck in his own end because he’s panicking on the play. With a new coach that is more open to developing his offensive gifts, he should have a much more productive year.
On the other hand, it eventually became clear that Horak was a kid in over his head. Even though he was limited to strictly third and fourth line opposition every night, the puck began to spend entirely too much time in the Flames end whenever Horak was on the ice. He finished the season well under water in terms of possession (-9.29/60) even though he faced the softest aggregate quality of competition outside of Tom Kostopolous on the team. So while the tools are there, Horak still has to find a way to put them together in order to be a useful NHLer. Which is usually true of any fresh faced 20-year old.
With Mikael Backlund starting the season healthy and depending on what the Flames do between now and training camp, Horak may find himself on the outside looking in. However, if there is a spot for him on the Flames roster, it will be up to him to replicate the start he had last year to ensure he keeps that spot.
His experience from last season may give him something positive to build on, it will be up to him to once again turn chance to his advantage.
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