Metro/John Matisz London Knights centre Bo Horvat leans in for a faceoff during a game earlier this year.

To fully appreciate Bo Horvat, you have to take a shovel to the surface and cut through some muck.

The burgeoning London Knights centre is fifth in team scoring after 14 playoff games, managing nine goals and three assists. Aside from the impressive goal count, it’s nothing the sophomore will write home about.

Which is OK, because Horvat’s value is multifaceted. It’s a mixed bag of hard-nosed duties: clogging up shooting lanes, drawing penalties, winning own-zone draws, and jumping over the boards on short breath.

Eager to fill the gaps left by the Ontario Hockey League’s limited stat-keeping, Metro tracked Horvat throughout Friday’s Game 5 of the Western Conference final, London’s 5-4 series-clinching overtime victory.

In the first two periods, Knights bench boss Dale Hunter tapped Horvat’s shoulder 23 times, resulting in 17:51 of ice time, including about 10 minutes in the middle frame. That’s a typical workload for Horvat during a full regular season game.

Putting the 6-foot, 203-pounder out for nearly half of the first two periods was no fluke. Hunter is a big believer in Horvat’s faceoff-winning abilities, an area the 18-year-old excelled in on Friday, going 22-8 (73.3 per cent) in the first 40 minutes and 26-11 (70.3 per cent) overall.

Time in the video room with assistant coach Dylan Hunter, the club’s faceoff guru, was evidently time well spent.

“We’ve been doing video on some guys who are really good on draws,” Horvat said in a post-Game 5 interview. “(Plymouth Whalers star Vincent) Trocheck’s really good on them. We did video on him and it helped me a lot.”

Incredibly, this is just one game and just one tool in Horvat’s toolbox that is applause-worthy.

While there are four to seven games left in the 2012-13 campaign — with the OHL final to be played over the next two weeks — and anything can happen, it’ll still be difficult to leave Horvat’s name off the playoff MVP shortlist.

Ex-Knight Austin Watson, a promising NHL prospect in the Nashville Predators organization, surely rubbed off on Horvat during his MVP performance last year.

Watson’s shot-blocking exploits provided Horvat, the 10th-ranked draft eligible player on International Scouting Service’s April 15 listing, with an invaluable front row learning experience.

Horvat has plopped himself in front of airborne rubber perhaps more than two-dozen times since the playoffs began, most notably in April 12’s Game 5 versus the Kitchener Rangers. As the second period buzzer sounded, he hobbled off the ice like a wounded soldier, needing assistance from teammates.

He didn’t miss a shift. After all, bruises heal.

“You’ve got a couple on your body, for sure, but it’s for the good of the team,” Horvat said. “You do what you have to do to win — that’s what I try to do every night. (Knights goalie Anthony Stolarz) has been great for us, but if you can get in front of pucks that’s always a bonus.”

London’s reliance on Horvat’s work on the penalty kill and his faceoff expertise are the core reasons why his plus-minus rating is a paltry plus-2 right now. By comparison, offence-first Knight Max Domi is plus-11.

Along the way, the Rodney native has picked up four special teams goals, a pair each on the power play and penalty kill, with both of the latter coming during the same Game 3 kill against Plymouth.

The 61-point man from the regular season has zero game-winning goals after three rounds of playoff hockey. But, as he looks to build off a four-game goal streak when the final series begins, that elusive game-winner may finally come.

And if it doesn’t, it really doesn’t matter. Horvat’s already contributed his fair share of game-winning efforts, albeit in non-traditional ways.

Horvat’s body of work in Game 5

1st period

  • 7:49 of ice time on 10 shifts (one of those shifts was on PP)
  • 9-2 in faceoff circle
  • 2 shots
  • 2 hits
  • 0 blocked shots

*even plus-minus

2nd period

  • 10:02 of ice time on 13 shifts (3 on PP; 1 on 4-on-4; 1 on PK)
  • 13-6 in faceoff circle
  • 1 shot (goal)
  • 0 hits
  • 1 blocked shot

*plus-1

3rd period

  • 6:01 of ice time on nine shifts (1 on PP)
  • 4-3 in faceoff circle
  • 1 shot
  • 0 hits
  • 0 blocked shots

*plus-1

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