Shawn Horcoff is the most prolific 99th draft pick in NHL history. Don’t scoff at that. The other 12 players picked 99th have combined for 457 points in 2082 games (418 games came from goalies, Marco Baron, Ray Emery and James Reimer). Horcoff tallied 447 points since the Oilers drafted him in the 4th round in 1998, and he’s played 796 games. He’s actually one of the best draft picks in Oiler history. Only ten Oiler draft picks have scored more points than Horcoff: Messier, Coffey, Kurri, Anderson, Arnott, Smyth, Satan, Tikkanen, Rucinsky and Hemsky and only Satan (111th) was drafted later than Horcoff.
Horcoff was the Oilers #1 centre and best forward during their 2006 Cup run, but that feels like decades ago for most fans and when Horcoff was traded last week many said, "good riddance." I’ll never understand why fans got so upset with Horcoff’s contract, yes it was an overpayment, but it never hindered the Oilers from signing other players.
Horcoff was far from perfect during his time as an Oiler, and during his tenure as Captain the Oilers struggled. It was time for him and the Oilers to part ways, and I believe Horcoff will go down as one of the most underappreciated Oilers of all-time.
Horcoff and I spoke after he was traded to Dallas and here is what he had to say about his time in Edmonton.
Gregor: Craig MacTavish said he had a conversation with you at the end of the season that maybe it was the right time for both parties to move on. Is that accurate?
Horcoff: It is. We had a really good talk at the end of the year. I could tell the organization probably felt it was time to move in a different direction, to try something new. Then really for me too, I felt the same way. The last seven years have been tough. The last time I was in the playoffs, we were in the Stanley Cup Finals and one game away. It’s been hard, but I think at the same time it’s just time for a new start. It’s just time to start a new chapter, it felt right. I was pretty much sold on the fact that my time in Edmonton was done right at the end of the season.
Gregor: 2006 was a hell of a run, but since then it has been frustrating. How does a guy mentally try to push forward, when at times, it looks like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel?
Horcoff: It’s tough; I mean it’s really tough. You play this game in order to get into the playoffs first and foremost, because anyone who has ever been there before knows just how special it is- especially playing in Edmonton with our fans. I still vividly remember those game back in ‘06. I think it’s time that those fans- they’re so loyal, deserve another reason to cheer. Unfortunately I’m not going to be there to be a part of it but I am looking forward to starting something new.
Gregor: When you signed that big contract, did you put more pressure on yourself?
Horcoff: I think probably at first, ya for sure. I’m a proud guy and I want to go out there and earn it. As time wore on and as you get older, more mature, I can honestly say I put everything I could into that jersey for thirteen years. I came to the rink everyday and put all my effort I had to not just be the best player I could, but be the best person I could and really represent the Oilers the way that I felt that team should be represented. Do I have regrets? Absolutely. Would I have liked it to have gone better? For sure. But at the same time, I leave holding my head high.
Gregor: Some people think that no one wants to come to Edmonton because the fans are hard on guys. You took the brunt of it from fans on the internet and on radio. Did that impact you at all?
Horcoff: Not me. Listen, I’ve said it before, I have no problem with the fans being the way they were. I think it’s valid. It’s a blue collar town, they’re hard working people, they pay good money to come see the Oilers play and they have a right to say whatever they want. I don’t think it bothered me as much as people think it did just because I was aware of the fact and I was fine with it. I was fine with them saying things like that. I’ve been a fan once and I complained about players on the ice, so I get it. I really didn’t take it that personally, to tell you the truth.
Having said that, Edmonton is known for being tough on guys. It is known for that around the league, it is a hard place to play with the fans. You really have to have strong people to come in there. I’ve seen players and teammates that have come and gone, strictly because they couldn’t handle that pressure. I was always in the belief that you didn’t want those types of players anyway. You wanted really strong people, that when push comes to shove, they are the kind of guys you can lean on.
Gregor: With you leaving, there’s a vacancy for the Captain. There’s a lot of pressure that goes into being a Captain, maybe more than people realize. It’s not just wearing the “C” it’s trying to coordinate the locker room. Do you think one of the young guys is ready for that, or would you give it to a veteran like Ference, rather than put that much pressure on a twenty-one or twenty-two year old?
Horcoff: Well that’s not really my decision anymore, I don’t have a say in that.When I left, MacT and I met for almost an hour and talked about almost every aspect of the team that you could possibly have. We went over that a little bit, but I don’t really know what they’re feeling. If they decide to go young, Nuge, Ebs, and Hallsy, all are different players and different people but they’d all be excellent candidates. If they decide to go older, it’s a personel decision. I think it really depends on what road the management wants to take and that will be up to the. Ultimately, I’m sure you guys will find by September, what the direction will be.
Gregor: You did have a No Movement Clause. When you heard ‘Dallas,’was it an easy one, or did you tell Craig MacTavish you were open to going anywhere?
Horcoff: No, with my contract I had some options. At one point I did submit a ten team list, more so because it was mandatory just because of the contract. As time wore on here, there were a couple different options that arose, that I won’t really get into. When I heard Dallas, and heard of the opportunity that I was going to have, it was a no-brainer for me. The good thing is, it was an easy decision for me and for my family. It was somewhere where we really wanted to go and it also worked out really well for the team. It was a win-win for both sides.
Gregor: Your new team added Horcoff, Peverly and Seguin all in a span of less than twenty-four hours. You win with strength down the middle, and on the blueline. What do you think of your new team?
Horcoff: I like how we look. First off, I’m comfortable there. I played for Lindy Ruff at the World Championships, Jim Nill was the General Manager and I know the owner. I know a lot of the players on the team. For me, it’s going to be as seamless as you can get. It’s going to be really comfortable for me to make the change. I look at the roster; I think the one thing that I’m confident in is that I believe in Jim Nill. I believe in his ability to put a winner together. I think he’s proven that he’s not afraid to make bold moves. I like the moves he’s made. The defence is strong and there’s some real talent up front. We’re going to be a real competitive team and I look forward to making the push for those playoffs, getting in, and trying to do some damage.
Gregor: You were a number one center in Edmonton for a long time, but you told me at the end of last year that you struggled accepting your role. At this stage of your career, do you see yourself going into Dallas as a number two guy, or more of a number three guy?
Horcoff: I don’t know. I’m going to go in and try to prove I can play. I still think I have lots of good hockey left in me. So I’m going to go in and fight. I think obviously looking at the center position; they want Tyler to fill that number one spot. It seems like they want Jamie to play the wing, so there are definitely open spots up the middle. I’m going in with the attitude that I’m really motivated this summer to go and prove I can still play some real good hockey. I’m not that old yet.
In Edmonton the last couple years they’ve given the younger guys the majority of the offensive minutes. Like I said, I was ok with that. I never complained once about the situation I was in. It’s just now I look forward to going in and trying to play and play myself into a situation where I can get more of those minutes.
Gregor: You’ve always been a guy who was in great shape. In today’s game, if you can’t skate and aren’t conditioned, you really don’t have a prayer to stay in the game. What about learning how to play competitively? You did that very well. Could you define playing hard and how you learned to do it at the NHL level, which is a lot different than doing it in college or junior?
Horcoff: Yeah, well it’s not that easy to learn. I think, for me, playing hard came natural. It’s kind of just a part of me. My Dad was always, from a young age, stressing the importance of playing on both sides of the puck and work ethic. Work ethic being the main focus.
I think too, once I got to University, my coach was always really stressful on playing both sides of the puck. I just always thought when I came to the NHL, the first couple years, when you’re a young player you kind of sit around and watch a little bit at times because you’re just kind of in awe of what’s going on out there.
But I always noticed how the best players in the game were always the guys you hated playing against because they were relentless, they never gave up, they were always on the puck. They hounded you; they were physical when they needed to be- not so much bone crushing hits they were just always there. They were always in your face and they always played hard, went to the hard areas.
I think as the game gets harder, and you get into the playoffs, one thing that has never changed is where the goals are scored. That is always in front of the net, in the tough areas. You’ve got to pay a price for success in this league and especially once the games become more important, that becomes even more prevalent. It’s definitely something you can learn from watching the people around you and watch how they play, but it has to be a personal decision to change your game or attitude of game to become successful in those areas.
Gregor: When you were a young guy coming out of college, you started on the fourth line and then eventually worked your way up to the first line. Did that make you a better player? Did it make you hungrier when you had to work for it?
Horcoff: Ya, I think so. I’m kind of an old school believer in that mentality. When I first came into the league, it was different. The CBA was different. You had to earn your right to play. The veterans were just kind of given their roles and as a young guy you had to come in and earn any offensive minutes that you got, or earn any power play minutes and you really earned your contracts.
You didn’t really make any big money until you were older. Now it’s a lot different. The CBA has changed and the younger players get big contracts kind of early, right out of their first deals. A lot of times, teams are forced to put these players into these situations to produce because of the amount of money that is given to them. A lot of times when that happens, you lose that- they don’t go through that step of having to fight for something.
With top players, they’ve just been so good at every level that they’ve never really had to fight for anything in their life. I’m not saying that happens to every player. I think Edmonton’s really fortunate with the guys that they’ve got there because these are guys who really care about the game. They put in the time; they do the work necessary to better themselves. You do see that in certain guys throughout the league at times.
NUMBER ONE CENTRE
Gregor: Give me your assessment of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He’s a very young guy who seems to have put an onus on the defensive side of the game. Are you impressed by how much he can do at both ends of the rink at his young age?
Horcoff: Ya, I am impressed. I really think he’s got potential to be just an outstanding hockey player. I really, really like Nuge’s game and the fact that he does play both side of the puck. He reminds me a little bit of Datsyuk, who is just so offensively gifted, but at the same time he’s just a dog to play against on the ice. Nuge has that ability. Obviously it’s going to take him a little time and he’s gotta get a little stronger. But he’s just so young that there’s really no ceiling for him. I definitely think he has the potential of being one of the better two-way forwards in the game.
Gregor: For most of your time in Edmonton the team either missed the playoffs or barely made it in. Then you come out of the lockout and there was that miracle run. How much did that year mean to your career, and did it make the past seven years even more disappointing because of that great run?
Horcoff: Personally, it was a pivotal time in my career. I was able to establish myself, I was able to play against some of the top players in the game and out-duel them in the important times, in important games. It really gave me a belief in my abilities. It was important for me, personally. I think even team-wise. That was kind of when you first started seeing the bottom teams, all you had to do was get into the playoffs, actually having a chance at winning.
When I first came into the league, there were powerhouses- Detroit, Dallas, Colorado, all in the west- it was almost impossible if you were the sixth, seventh, eighth seed to get by these teams. If you got by one, you had another one the next round because they were just stacked. Now you have a lot more parity in the league. Just by getting in, anyone has a good chance of winning the Cup.
Gregor: What do you think of the new Stars’ jersey?
Horcoff: I like them, I really like them. I went to school in Michigan State in college, so I’m fond of the green. I think it’s really cool and they seem to be getting some pretty good press about it too. I think a lot of other people like it.
Gregor: You’re a big sports fan, and I know you were always involved in golf and football pools. Have you ever been to a Dallas Cowboys game?
Horcoff: Well I haven’t, but I can’t wait. I’m a big NFL guy so it’s something that I’m really looking forward to.
Gregor: Who is your team?
Horcoff: I don’t really have a team. Honestly, I like the Lions, I always have, but I’ve kind of always been a Steelers fan. Those are probably the two teams I follow the most.
Gregor: Anything you would like to say to the Edmonton fans, after thirteen years with the Oilers?
Horcoff: I appreciate everything and I appreciate all the support they’ve given. I really believe that they are some of the best fans in the league. Like I said, I hope that the team does make it into the playoffs because they deserve something to cheer. They’ve been really good over the last little while.