The next wave of Canucks is coming, and that wave is led by Bo Horvat.
The 21-year-old centre is entering his third full season in Vancouver, after surprisingly cracking the roster as a 19-year-old. He was the first teenager to make the team full-time since the days of Trevor Linden.
Horvat set the stage for other players to step up in training camp and make the team. Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann, and Ben Hutton all followed suit last season by making the Canucks. Although Hutton is the only one in that group not to make the team as a teenager, seeing his name on the opening night roster last season was arguably the biggest surprise.
The departure of Dan Hamhuis in the offseason leaves a leadership void in the Canucks dressing room. As of now, the Canucks only have one designated alternate captain, Daniel Sedin.
“Losing [Hamhuis] was tough on the team, he was a big part of this organization for a long time,” said Horvat during the Canucks opening day media availability.
When Benning was asked about who was going to fill the leadership void left by Hamhuis, the first name he mentioned was Horvat’s.
“The way he handles himself on a day-to-day basis, all the young players really respect him,” Benning said about Horvat.
Horvat is arguably the future captain of his team, so letting him don the “A” in his third season with the Canucks is the right thing to do.
Horvat a Leader for the Emerging Core
There is no doubt that the Canucks are a team in transition. Many may question their decisions to acquire older players such as Loui Eriksson or to hang on to someone like Alex Burrows. However, having a lineup that includes the likes of Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Virtanen, Hutton, Erik Gudbranson and Jacob Markstrom shows that the Canucks are getting younger.
Whether it’s fair or not, Horvat will always be the symbol of the next emerging core. When he was acquired in the surprising deal for Cory Schnieder, it was the beginning of bringing in younger players into the organization. Although Horvat is only 21-years-old, there is only a handful of Canucks who have been with the team longer than him.
The Canucks will only keep getting younger with the likes of Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko and Olli Juolevi poised to make the big club in the coming years. As Horvat keeps gaining experience, he can become a perfect leader for those emerging players.
Horvat pointed to his readiness to become an alternate captain during the Canucks opening day for media availability.
“There’s been young leaders in the league,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot over the last couple years and I think I’m ready to fill that void.”
If Horvat were to be named an alternate captain, he would currently be the youngest player in the league to bear that responsibility. He certainly wouldn’t be the youngest alternate captain in league history, but his age could have general manager Jim Benning looking for a safer option.
Benning mentioned a second name when asked about who could fill the void left by Hamhuis. In a somewhat surprising move, he mentioned Erik Gudbranson’s name, even though the 24-year-old defenceman hasn’t yet played a game for the Canucks.
“We missed some leadership on the back end,” said Benning. “He’s been a leader in our room ever since he showed up here, like by taking Jake Virtanen under his wing.”
Much to the chagrin of analytics-focused hockey minds, one of the reasons Benning acquired Gudbranson was based on his leadership abilities and intangibles. There’s already a lot of pressure on Gudbranson to be a physical shutdown defender. Will he be able to handle the added pressure of being an alternate captain?
One other obvious choice is one of the longest-tenured members of the Canucks and fan favourite, Alex Burrows.
Burrows has worn the “A” for the Canucks as recently as last season. However, the Canucks website lists only Daniel Sedin as an alternate. Giving Burrows the “A” seems like a fitting tribute, in what could be his last season in a Canucks jersey.
“Alex has been the heart and soul of our organization for a long time, said Benning. “He’s excellent with our young players, and he holds them accountable.”
One other less notable candidate could be Jannik Hansen. Hansen has become much more outspoken in the media as he becomes a seasoned veteran in the Canucks core. He leads by example by working hard and playing up and down the lineup.