Bo Horvat: From a Rookie Question Mark to a Vital Player

The Vancouver Canucks’ 2013 first rounder Bo Horvat is somewhat the face of the next generation of Canucks. The Sedins are in the latter half of their careers and the roster is in a state of flux in regards to the Canucks’ future outlooks, so the 19-year-old has plenty of eyes on him. Fan excitement received a large bump in December when Head Coach Willie Desjardins revealed the rookie would be staying with the team until the end of the season.

As the Canucks’ season heads into the stretch run, the hoopla surrounding Bo Horvat has tempered a tad. The tempering of expectations isn’t a bad thing, rather I see Horvat playing as well as anyone could expect of a rookie. So what can we say of the 19-year-old after his first 31 games in the NHL?

Faceoffs, Faceoffs, Faceoffs

I start here with two things in mind: one, I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about Bo Horvat’s proficiency in the face off circle and two, said proficiency is worth noting for the umpteenth time.

Heading into the All-Star break, Horvat has a face off percentage of 53.18%, while winning 59.62% of his draws at Rogers Arena and 47.75% on the road. Horvat’s face off win percentage places him as the best face off man on the Canucks’ roster, ahead of Henrik Sedin, Brad Richardson, and Nick Bonino.

Again, that’s pretty impressive for a 19-year-old.

Willie Desjardins isn’t scared to use Horvat in the defensive zone either; even while Horvat’s defensive zone start percentage is only 29.3, lowest on the Canucks, his offensive start percentage is a very familiar 29.3 as well. Desjardins is giving Horvat equal opportunity in the offensive zone as well as the defensive, so the Head Coach isn’t stashing Horvat away when the play begins in the Canucks’ zone.

Bo Horvat’s Nose for Goal

The one area where I would like to see Bo Horvat be a little more selfish is in the offensive zone. Horvat plays like a true fourth line teammate: dump the puck down low, try like hell not to get scored on, and feed the puck to veterans Derek Dorsett or Jannik Hansen.

Sometimes I want Horvat to try a one on one move or to flash his offensive ability to appease fan premonitions that the 19-year-old is growing as an offensive player.

But flash isn’t Horvat’s game and his ability to stick to, and do well with, Desjardin’s script shows his maturity as a hockey player.

Of Horvat’s three goals so far, one was a clinical finish in the high slot, the other a lucky bounce, and the third, most recent tally, was an outcome of Horvat’s will to push the puck over the goal line.

What’s great about that goal against the Florida Panthers is Horvat does show off a little toe drag – there’s the hint of skill I want to see more of – and drive the net to finish the play off. Horvat has begun to figure out the NHL throughout his, albeit limited, tenure in Vancouver, as the rookie seems to know that his goals are going to come from in close. Once again, this type of play shows his maturity as a young hockey player.

Besides, Canucks have Hunter Shinkaruk and Nicklas Jensen to look forward to for the flash.

Setting the Lineup

A far less obvious piece of the value Bo Horvat has added to the Canucks is that with him in the lineup, Desjardins’ team is more or less set in stone up the middle. Before Horvat returned from his injury early in the season the fourth line centre spot a revolving door and the bottom six didn’t really find much cohesion.

The Canucks traded to get Bo Horva but he still needs some AHL time.t (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
The Canucks traded to get Bo Horva but he still needs some AHL time.t (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Enter Horvat, who has taken the fourth line centre role and allowed the other guys to find their groove in a more permanent spot. Before Nick Bonino’s struggles and Brad Richardson’s injury, the middle of the ice for the Canucks was always: Sedin-Bonino-Richardson-Horvat.

Desjardins has had to shuffle a tad, a thing all coaches experience when their team hits their inevitable slump, but the constant factor has been Henrik at the top, Horvat at the bottom.

Bo Horvat has adapted to his fourth line role and played well enough to show he is a player that can do most of whatever he is asked of. And while he hasn’t lit up the league, 8 points in 31 games, Horvat has earned his spot on the team and has become as much an integral part of the 2014/15 iteration of the Canucks as he is for the team going forward.