On Wednesday night, the Vancouver Canucks went on to win their fifth game in a row. It was yet another game where Sven Baertschi and Bo Horvat shone for the Canucks, as they have now scored five of the Canucks’ last six goals in the last two games.
Both forwards are playing incredible hockey at the moment, and there are signs that their strong play is more than just a hot streak. It isn’t premature to say that Horvat and Baertschi look ready to overtake the Sedins as the Canucks’ offensive leaders.
As the Canucks get ready to head into the second half of the season, management is still saying that the Canucks are a playoff team. Everyone was laughing at the notion, but Benning and company might get the last laugh, with the Canucks only one point out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference.
If the Canucks want to make the playoffs, they will need a big second half from both Horvat and Baertschi. There is every reason to believe that these wingers will deliver after they both had strong second halves last season. With their recent play, it might be time to hand the offensive keys over to Horvat and Baertschi.
Everyone wants to point to Baertschi’s healthy scratch as his turning point in the season, and there is some merit to that. He has rebounded since his one-game banishment to the press box with 12 points in his last 11 games. However, he had nine points in 13 games before being a healthy scratch. He did go pointless in three games before the demotion, so he really had nine points over a 10-game stretch before the scratch.
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) January 5, 2017
The truth is, Baertschi has spent the last quarter of the Canucks’ season piling up the points, and he is now tied with Daniel Sedin for third on the Canucks in points. However, his point-per-game total is actually better than Daniel’s. He has taken a major leap forward this year, and is bound to smash his career high of 28 points. He already has 23 points in 37 games this season.
Baertschi, by far, is the Canucks’ points-per-60 minutes leader at even strength. In part due to his recent point streak, Baertschi is now averaging 2.62 points-per-60. The next closest Canucks, Horvat and Jannik Hansen, are at 1.81 and 1.76 points-per-60 respectively.
— Trevor Beggs (@TrevBeggs) January 6, 2017
Baertschi is climbing the NHL ranks in in this statistical category, which might be even more telling than point totals alone. He is now ninth overall league-wide in points-per-60, in players who have played over 100 minutes this season. He is narrowly ahead of some no-names such as Evgeni Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko and Connor McDavid. Baertschi is truly showing potential to be a first-line forward. It’s the kind of potential he hasn’t flashed since he was drafted 13th overall in 2011.
Horvat is Driving Offence
The calendar year of 2016 was a tough one for the Canucks, but if there was one outstanding take away from those 365 days, it’s that Horvat has become the Canucks’ best forward. The Sedins have been waiting for someone to overtake them in a top-line role, and it appears that time has arrived.
Horvat is coming into his own this year, and it’s starting to lead to wins for the organization. He began to pile up the points in the second half of last season, but did it in a losing cause. Now, he’s contributing to this team in a winning situation.
Through 40 games, Horvat now leads the Canucks with 12 goals and 27 points. There have been no long droughts of poor play or inconsistency for Horvat this season. Dating back to last season, Horvat now has 25 goals and 56 points over his last 82 games. It’s safe to say that Horvat has arrived as a legitimate top-six threat in the NHL.
It’s incredible that at 21 years old, he is one of the leaders on this team. Horvat set the bar for younger players to join this organization. However, none of them have replicated his success, and maybe that’s unsurprising. Horvat has always had the drive to improve his play, and it shows on the ice. Scouts used to knock Horvat’s skating ability, but that clearly isn’t an issue anymore. Look at this explosiveness as Horvat scores against the Coyotes.
Horvat and Baertschi: First-Line Players?
Horvat and Baertschi are talented and constantly improving players, but are they first line material?
Over the last dozen games, they have been. Together, they have scored 23 points in their last 12 games, and the team is 7-4-1 in that span. You could make an argument for the goaltenders, but otherwise, Horvat and Baertschi have been the Canucks’ best skaters of late.
However, it’s too early, and a bit overly optimistic, to anoint these two as top-line forwards. They have been impressive recently, but it wasn’t too long ago that Baertschi was a healthy scratch, and Horvat was on the fourth line. To be fair, Horvat never should have been on the Canucks’ fourth line to start the season. Baertschi was also one of the better forwards prior to being a scratch.
Despite being the team’s two best forwards, Willie Desjardins keeps deploying them like third-liners. Horvat is fifth among Canucks forwards, averaging 17:25 in ice time per game. Baertschi is down at eighth among Canucks forwards, averaging 15:08 per game.
Horvat – 17:09 ice time, 2 assists, shootout winner
Sutter – 24:13 ice time, 0 points
Hell of a 3rd line center though
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) January 1, 2017
Desjardins did mention in his post-game press conference that he likes to keep the duo “fresh and hungry.” It’s possible that Desjardins’ deployment of the two wingers is strategic. If he continues to give the Sedins first line minutes, then it takes the pressure off of Horvat and Baertschi to be the primary goal scorers. The ice also opens up for them if Desjardins’ uses Brandon Sutter as his shutdown centre.
Maybe there’s a science behind Desjardins’ madness, and its help Horvat and Baertschi achieve premier offensive status. Perhaps, Horvat and Baertschi are just coming into their own as elite offensive NHL players. As of today, they sure are the Canucks’ best bet to get a goal.