Knights powered by draft eligible duo

Chris Messina2013 Draft Center, Features0 Comments

There’s little arguing the London Knights are among the elite teams in the Ontario Hockey League and could find themselves as Memorial Cup contenders.

But instead of being loaded with 18 and 19-year-olds, the team is powered by seven members of the 2013 NHL Draft class.

Among them a pair of powerhouse 17-year-olds in Bo Horvat and Max Domi.

Both were top 10 picks in the 2011 OHL Priority Selection. Domi was taken seventh by the Kingston Frontenacs before being traded to the Knights while Horvat was selected ninth. As rookies a year ago they each contributed but are playing bigger roles for London this year.

The production from the dynamic duo is one of the reasons the team is currently ranked third in the Canadian Hockey League.

“It’s always tough when it’s your draft year,” Knights assistant coach Dylan Hunter said. “There is so much pressure on these kids. Both are character kids and two different types of players but at the same time that brings more of a dynamic to our team.

“Max is a high-flying offensive guy while Bo is a good two-way guy and they work well together.”

Domi’s offensive game didn’t take long to round into form at the OHL level. He scored a hat trick in his first game at the Major Junior on September 23, 2011. His 49 points last season were second in OHL rookie scoring. The five-foot-10 winger finished first among ’95 born while being named to the OHL’s 2nd All-Rookie team.

Domi, the son of former NHL tough-guy Tie Domi, picked up where he left off last spring and is currently seventh in OHL scoring with 64 points.

Despite being tagged as a two-way player, Horvat still contributed offensively as a rookie with 30 points in 47 games. For the Rodney, ON. product, the offensive part of his game has rounded into form as of late after a bit of a slow start to the season.

Since November 30th, Horvat has recorded points in all but one game. During that stretch, he has compiled 30 points including 15 goals in 21 games. The start of this hot streak helped him be named Ferda Hockey draft eligible Forward Of The Month for December.

“You never know how guys are going to come into the year with the pressure [of both being top draft prospects and playing more critical roles on the team],” Hunter said. “With Max, we put a lot of pressure on him to run our power play and he has done an exceptional job on it.

“Bo, we have him playing against the other teams top lines. It’s tough for a 17-year-old kid to check 19-year-old guys. They are both doing a great job. It goes with their character how good they are.”

Last year the Knights – a team that pegged 2012-13 as their year to make a run at the CHL title – were better than expected and when out and brought in a couple of key 19-year-olds that were NHL draft picks in the forms of Austin Watson from the Peterborough Petes and Greg McKegg from the Erie Otters.

Those additions helped Horvat down his development path.

“Those guys were great mentors for me,” he said. “They were great leaders and great people to learn from; they showed what it takes to be a pro. They gave me a lot of confidence and something to look forward to coming into this year. It helped a lot.”

Last year London lost in the final of the Memorial Cup but that wasn’t the only time these two played on the big stage. They each won gold with Ontario at the World Under-17 Challenge last year and followed it up with a gold medal playing for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka last summer.

In Horvat’s case he was privileged enough to wear the ‘C’ for Ontario and the ‘A’ for Canada.

“[Playing in high profiled games] has been a huge part of my development,” Horvat said. “You see what it takes to play in those games and how to get there. Just to be able play in those games was something special and it makes you hungrier to get back in the years to come.”

Both are going to have a chance to play for Canada at the World Juniors in each of the next two years which can only help them continue growing as hockey players, but in the meantime they are focused on trying to win a Memorial Cup.

“Just being their last year makes me even hungrier to want to get back their this year. I think we got the team this year to do it,” said Horvat.

Success is nothing new to this addition of the Knights. Earlier this season the team garnered a lot of attention by reeling off a 24-game win streak, one short of the CHL record that was set by the Kitchener Rangers back in 1983-84.

“Our team has had a lot of success of lately,” Domi said. “We went through a little bit of a road bump after that streak we had but now we are getting back to work.”

With NHL stars like Patrick Kane, Rick Nash and company as players that all graduated from the London Knights program these two players are well on their way to adding to the organizations record for producing hockey players.

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