Horak helping Heat’s hot start

by Ryan Pinder || AHL On The Beat Archive

After leading the AHL in goals scored through three weeks, and owning a seven-game point streak, Abbotsford Heat forward Roman Horak is looking more and more like a top organizational prospect for the Calgary Flames. But how he arrived in their system is often forgotten.

Horak was likely a player the Flames would not have wanted to deal for, but that changed when 2009 first-round pick Tim Erixon balked at signing with the Calgary Flames. When the deadline to sign the Swedish defender approached in June of 2011, a deal was made and Roman Horak began his tenure with the Flames organization.

The Flames swapped Erixon -– son of NHLer Jan Erixon, who spent all 556 games of his NHL career with the New York Rangers -– to his father’s old club with a fifth-round pick, in exchange for two second-round picks (Markus Granlund and Tyler Wotherspoon). Also part of the deal was a kid named Roman Horak, who had been drafted 104 selections after Erixon in that 2009 draft in Montreal.

"Once we realized that we were not going to be able to come to terms with Tim Erixon, we wanted to make sure we turned that pick into an asset," Flames general manager Jay Feaster stated via a team release at the time.

"We are excited to be able to get a player of Roman’s caliber in addition to landing two second round picks in the upcoming draft."

If Jay Feaster was excited in June 2011, he’s likely ecstatic now in November 2012.

Horak’s start with the Flames exceeded the loftiest of expectations for the Ceske Budjovice, Czech Republic, product. He was the surprise of the 2011 training camp, and made the Flames opening day roster. Horak centered the fourth line for the majority of the season with the Flames, amassing 61 NHL games as a 20-year-old.

Horak didn’t exactly find his groove last season in his 14 AHL games. But that’s likely as much to do with his role changing (including his position), as being in an unfamiliar locker room. Horak moved back in with his billets in Chilliwack (he played two seasons in the WHL for the Bruins), but his junior scoring touch wasn’t re-ignited, at least not immediately.

This season Horak has been one of the strongest all-around players on the Heat. He leads the team in shots, goals, and points through the first three weeks of the season, in which the club has lost just one game in regulation. More impressive than the output from Horak is that he is doing it while playing all over head coach Troy G. Ward’s line-up card. Horak’s success this season likely has a lot to do with his versatility as much as any other skill he has.

Horak hasn’t been teeing off with top-flight line mates this season either, he’s spent time on the Heat’s first, second and fourth lines. He has played all three forward positions, spending just one game on a line with talented rookie Sven Baertschi, and none with veteran pivot Ben Walter –- the duo with whom he has been jockeying with for the team lead in points.

“He’s definitely finding the net, and it’s great because there are very few people in the game of hockey that would ever find a streak like this,” stated Ward after Roman’s sixth straight game with a goal to start the season. “We just sit back and enjoy it. And we’re really happy for Roman, because I think it’s really important to him to continue to try to establish himself where he wants to be looked at in the game – and that’s a top-six forward.”

Whether Horak’s future is that of a first-line finisher on the wing, a checking line center, or another cog in the forward corps isn’t clear. What is clear is that the Flames and Heat have a flexible part that can help no matter what challenges are facing the team at that moment. Also, nobody seems to be talking about that Erixon kid in Western Canada anymore, though he hasn’t exactly been a bust either.

Erixon posted strong pro numbers last season (3-30-33) in 52 games with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale, and also suited up for 18 games with the Rangers. But he’s now Columbus property. When Rangers GM Glen Sather needed some pieces to move to acquire Rick Nash, Erixon went from being a hopeful member of the Blueshirts to a new member of the re-tooling Blue Jackets.

Given the circumstances back in June of 2011, it would be safe to assume that most are impressed with the return Jay Feaster got for a player whom the Flames nearly lost for no compensation. The trade that brought Horak’s rights out west has Flames fans hoping for a new Roman Empire in Southern Alberta for years to come.