Bo Horvat Brings Potential, Not Magic

Bo Horvat will be hitting the ice for the Vancouver Canucks soon, and that’s great for him and the team, but hopefully he won’t have to surf a tidal wave of unrealistic expectations when he gets there.

The Canucks knew going into the season that secondary offence was going to be crucial for the overall success of the team. And so far, very early on in the season, it remains to be seen what the Canucks can muster outside of their top line.

There have been encouraging signs, with players like Vey, Kassian, Burrows and Higgins getting goals already and hopefully gaining some momentum in the process.

And now Horvat, one of their most highly regarded prospects, is almost ready to strap on his skates and contribute, having recovered from a shoulder injury suffered in pre-season.

It’s exciting for everyone, he’s the best prospect Vancouver has had in a while, and down the road they will be looking to him for some of that missing additional offence. But in the meantime, hopefully he doesn’t re-injure himself carrying the burden of excessive optimism.

Does Horvat Have Star Quality?

He has a lot of talent, there’s no doubt about that, with 74 points in 54 games for the London Knights last year. And at some point in a couple of years he could realistically find himself as a regular on the second line, a catalyst for much needed scoring depth.

But at the moment, it would be a mistake to expect him to have the impact that say, a Jonathan Drouin will have in Tampa Bay. For some reason, people will too often look at a player like Drouin and the points he produces and say “He was a first round draft pick too, why can’t ours do that?” And the simple answer is, all first round draft picks are not created equal.

In actual fact, there is often a big drop off in skill between the rest of the draft and the top 5 players, sometimes even the top 3.

You would think this would be common knowledge among the average hockey fan, but we’ve all seen unrealistic views expressed far too many times. One example being that Bonino is a bust if he doesn’t produce like Kesler. Please.

The potential inclusion of Horvat on the team was a topic of debate among Canuck faithful before training camp even started, all centered around a unique circumstance. Due to his age, he is ineligible to play on the AHL farm team unless on a conditioning stint as he is right now, leaving Vancouver with few choices.

One option was the Canucks returning him to his junior team, as they did with Hunter Shinkaruk last season, who headed back to Medicine Hat. But management felt Horvat was further along in his development than Shinkaruk, and had essentially accomplished all he could there, thus a trip back to the Knights would provide little value.

The other option was having Horvat in the starting lineup, which is where some controversy began to surface. Fans worried he would be anointed a roster spot due to a lack of anywhere else to put him, as opposed to earning it, and end up somewhat of a weak link on the Canucks while he found his game.

But Bo put that concern to rest during camp. His performance was such that Canuck brass became even more assured of his ability to fit in, and were convinced that the best place for him to develop his game was on the big team, learning the NHL game in the presence of NHL’ers.

With the legitimacy of Horvat’s presence finally put to rest, the masses could now turn their attention to another matter. Namely, what were they going to see from Horvat as a regular player during the season?

What Can Really Be Expected Of Horvat?

It’s possible, even likely that he’ll get a look on the second line, which will be more for his benefit than the teams’. He may even see a powerplay here and there for the sake of experience, especially if one of the units starts to lag, but both of those occurrences are likely to be brief.

He is not going to jump in on the second line immediately and simultaneously insert himself into rookie of the year conversations. I would love to be able to say it will happen, but that would be a real foray into fantasyland.

That isn’t saying he won’t be productive, it’s just an effort to stay rooted in reality. He isn’t going to singlehandedly vault Vancouver into the playoffs, but there is reason to be hopeful if one tempers their expectations.

His junior career has shown he can put up numbers, and a lot depends on whether or not Desjardins is willing to play him out of his natural position, but seeing him on a line with Vey and Higgins stirs the imagination a bit. It would be a fast line and all of them have offensive capabilities, the only downside being that Vey himself is essentially a rookie.

He could also see action on a fourth line with the likes of Dorsett and Richardson, but a fourth line presents a problem. He seems to play a solid game at both ends of the ice, but would playing in a scenario like that give him enough minutes? Even though Desjardins wants to roll all his lines and has done it fairly effectively, it remains to be seen if a checking line can generate enough ice time for a player like Horvat to reach his potential.

The bottom line is that he can produce points and have a positive impact, and I believe he will, but a year-end total of 25 points would be considered a success for him in this debut season. It won’t be near the 70 or so points he is projected to rack up as a future top 6 forward.

In the end, Canuck fans can and should be excited to see their top prospect finally donning a uniform for action when hockey matters. But if they truly understand the game and really want to enjoy the season, they will realize that Bo Horvat is here to help, not work magic, and will avoid burying him under the concrete of unrealistic demands.