The Canucks have had an outstanding start to their season, and for the first time in a few years they haven’t had a large distraction/controversy hovering over them and absorbing all their energy.
In fact, the closest thing to controversy in the Canucks universe centers around Bo Horvat. First it was whether or not he should be a Canuck, now it’s a matter of whether or not the Canucks should let him play for Canada in the World Juniors.
Horvat, for his part, has proven that he belongs in Vancouver based on his play, as opposed to a spot merely having been conceded to him due to the fact he is ineligible to play in the AHL.
So now the attention turns to the development of Horvat, and molding him into the top 6 forward most think he can be. The importance of this particular task is hard to overstate for Vancouver and their future. Development of all their prospects will have a huge impact on future seasons, that much is true, but with Horvat it’s different, as Vancouver has fewer options afforded to them in his case.
Horvat So Far
Looking at what Bo has accomplished so far, the Canucks are clearly pleased. He played his way on to the team with poise and intelligence, and has shown the willingness to learn that every player needs to be successful at the highest level.
Since he’s arrived, after re-habilitating an injury, he’s done everything he has been asked to do on a line with Dorsett and Hansen, and probably at a higher level than expected.
They love his size down the middle, but one of the most pleasant surprises has been in the faceoff circle, where Horvat has performed like a seasoned veteran. He is flirting with a 60% winning percentage, significant for any player, but for a rookie it’s nothing short of amazing.
This is music to the Canucks ears, as faceoffs have been an area they have been weak in for a long time. In the rookie Horvat, they have someone who they can rely on in key situations; late in the game, while they are shorthanded, etc, and most coaches will tell you how critical puck possession is when you are trying to win a hockey game.
And they aren’t afraid to use him against the opposing team’s top players, a role he has really seemed to embrace.
So overall, you would have to conclude that Horvat is exactly where the Canucks hoped he would be at this point. Smart, a solid defensive game and can contribute offensively. But is that all they want from this 1st round pick? A reliable shut down player who is above average defensively?
Horvat And The Future
I think he is capable of more, and I believe the Canucks think so as well. And therefore, every effort should be made to develop the skills that most feel Horvat possesses.
This is where playing for his country in the World Juniors can have a significant impact. Playing in the NHL is one thing, but there is something special about representing Canada, especially for a young player.
Playing for Canada will give him almost limitless opportunity to work on his offensive game, as he would certainly be a top line forward and see a lot of action on the powerplay. And with his faceoff prowess and proven defensive skills, he would likely see duties on the penalty kill and in critical late game scenarios.
It may not be the NHL, but everyone is aware of the calibre of play in this tournament. He will match up against the best in the world in his age group, and the confidence he can gain with an impressive showing here can impact the rest of his career.
And that is where Vancouver cannot afford to be short-sighted. They have to be smarter than other NHL teams have been and look to the long term with their player development, instead of focusing on the immediate future. Other teams have been unable to resist the pressure of getting results right now, today, and it has brought about catastrophic results.
Look no further than the Edmonton Oilers, who have mishandled young players to an almost illogical extent, and it will probably affect their organization for several years to come. All of their young players would have benefitted from a season in the AHL developing their game, but instead were rushed into the lineup. As a result, their re-build seems eternal.
The Canucks have to be smarter, and so far they have shown that indeed they are looking beyond today when it comes to the team’s performance.
With Horvat the trend must continue, and the competition he will face while trying to win a gold medal will help make up for the lack of AHL experience.
Will He Or Won’t He?
The Canucks are miles ahead of where most thought they would be this year in what was widely regarded as a rebuilding year. And without a doubt, Bo Horvat is one of the reasons why.
But is he really indispensable to the team at this juncture? As much as Horvat is clearly having an impact on the team, is he absolutely vital to their success right now?
If he were a team leader in scoring, it would be a much easier call. That kind of contribution would be hard to replace, and thus, lending him to the World Juniors would be out of the question.
But he is shining defensively, and under Willy Desjardins, so is most of the team. With that in mind, it seems likely that they could replace Horvat’s contributions by committee for a short period of time.
And speaking of a short period of time, should Canada make it to the gold medal game, Horvat would miss approximately 5 games.
Can it really be said that it isn’t worth taking Horvat out of the lineup for 5 games, when the benefits that he and the Canucks could reap from it are so profound? It’s hardly like they would be conceding defeat for those 5 games, and to me, it’s well worth potentially weakening your line-up for a few days to strengthen it down the road for several years.
The World Juniors present the Canucks with an opportunity few get in a lifetime, and hopefully they have the vision to capitalize on it and ride a wave of momentum that will be generated by a short term sacrifice.
Darrin Hayes is a regular contributor for the Vancouver Canucks on TheHockeyWriters.com. Follow Darrin on Twitter @HayesTHW or on Facebook via TheHockeyWriters fan page.