You probably fall under one of two schools of thought when faced with the news that Flames forward Roman Horak checks in all the way at number 4 in the top 15 Prospect list:
A) It’s a sad prospect pool if Roman Horak is your fourth best prospect,
B) Roman Horak has already gone above and beyond anything ever expected of him since being acquired as mostly a throw-in tied to the Tim Erixon trade, and basically anything he’s provided to this point has been pure, unadulterated added value.
The truth, quite likely, is that Horak slots in somewhere in the middle of these two camps, but I love this dude, so I’m focusing heavily on a Team B perspective here.
The České Budějovice product has 81 games of NHL experience and 73 AHL contests under his belt, and it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride for Horak over this relatively short timeframe. After beating all the odds and making the Flames out of training camp 2 Septembers ago, Horak has become a fan favourite (I guess) for his work ethic, attitude, and for the fact that he already has more big league experience than noted jerk, Tim Erixon, of whom Horak was traded for (along with other Flames Top 15 prospects, Tyler Wotherspoon and Markus Granlund)
Having never thought of as being much of an offensive force during his junior days with the Chilliwack Bruins (heh, Chilliwack), the Opening Day roster spot was shocking, if not completely outside of the Flames’ wheelhouse. Perhaps, because of this, some undue expectations were placed upon the youngster, and as you might expect, he didn’t quite live up to them. He HAS scored 5 goals and 18 points at the NHL level, nothing to write home about, but to place the burden of scoring goals upon the center was misguided to begin with.
Horak is destined to play the role of a 3rd or 4th line pivot, and if given the opportunity to do so, can be quite effective at it. Taking most of his draws in the defensive zone – with far more ice time than he’s been given in the past, no less – it’s apparent the coaching staff is trying to carve out his niche as a two way forward. Certainly the Flames have relied on him in defensively heavier assignments, and for better or worse, he’s taken the opportunity and ran with it.
Unless he got injured, or the coaching staff thought dressing Brian McGrattan for 3 minutes a game was a better strategy, something that happened FAR MORE OFTEN than it ever should have, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
At the AHL level, Horak has developed quite nicely, scoring 16 goals and 30 points with the Baby Flames in Abbotsford this past season. That gives Roman an NHLE of roughly 18, suggesting there’s a bit of third line pop in that stick yet to come, but again, let’s not put the cart before the Czech horse here. Horak is not on the ice to score goals at the pro level, he’s largely there to limit them.
With a now gutted Flames forward core, and a seemingly apparent desire to let the kids get some time with the big club, it’s a safe bet to assume that Roman Horak will be given every chance to play regular minutes with your Calgary Flames as the puck drops on the 2013-14 season. He’s likely to find his niche, if he develops properly, pivoting the third line and maybe earning some PK time if he proves he’s got the vision for it.
But don’t be too surprised if a sudden influx of depth to the Flames roster (I don’t know FROM WHERE, this is hypothetical, jerks) bumps the kid back down to Abbotsford for some more polishing, which admittedly wouldn’t be the worst thing for him (he’s been a better player for Calgary after successive recalls in the past).
Whatever the development arc for Horak ends up being, we should be proud of the fact that the kid has already surpassed expectations, and given that relative surprise, perhaps we shouldn’t be left too dumbfounded if the kid manages to exceed expectations further as time goes on.
Just don’t hold your breath waiting for it, and appreciate what he brings to the table now, because it’s important in it’s own right.
Finally, go to hell, Tim Erixon. I hope you get addicted to something terrible.