Bo Horvat was drafted at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, when the Vancouver Canucks traded goaltender Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils and acquired the ninth overall pick in return. He signed a three-year, entry-level contract on Aug. 6, 2013, and played his first NHL game on Nov. 4, 2014, against the Colorado Avalanche. His first NHL goal came on Nov. 20, 2013, against Frederik Andersen, then of the Anaheim Ducks.
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It wasn’t long before Horvat caught the fancy of the Canucks fans. It almost goes without saying that Hovat will be the future captain of a young Canucks team. He just has that way about him. Although the team decided not to make Horvat the captain this season, I have no doubt he will assume that job down the road.
Reason One: He Carries Responsibility well.
Entering the 2018-19 season, immense responsibility was placed on Horvat. There were two big unknowns. First, would Horvat struggle with the added pressure of being “the man” in Vancouver? The Sedin twins were gone, and the burden was squarely on his shoulders in the wake of their departure.
Furthermore, he was expected to carry the team’s defensive, take more of the team’s late-game face-offs, and play the other team’s toughest lines so that rookie Elias Pettersson might have easier assignments.
Pettersson was the second unknown. No one knew just how good he would be and how his play would allow the team to take a great leap forward. He was a revelation to those who cover the Canucks as the season progressed.
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Horvat was up to the challenge. He took on those extra responsibilities and played even better because of them. He was great on face-offs and ended the season with 27 goals and 34 assists, both personal highs. He seems ready for more responsibility, not less.
Reason Two: He’s More Experienced.
You can see it in his statistics over the five solid seasons Horvat has played. Starting in 2014-15, he played 68 games with 25 points (13 goals). In 2015-16, he played 82 games with 40 points (16 goals). In 2016-17, 81 games with 52 points (20 goals). In 2017-18, 64 games with 44 points (22 goals). Then, last season he played 82 games with 61 points (27 goals).
It’s not hard to see his steady progress from season to season. He’s not a flash in the pan. He’s a player who is becoming more experienced and gaining strength each season. There is no reason he cannot score well over 30 goals this next season. I don’t think we’ve seen his top-end yet.
Reason Three: He Will Have More Consistent Linemates.
His best line partners were during the 2017-18 season when he played on what was called the “Triple B” line, with Sven Baertschi and the rookie Brock Boeser. Sadly, Baertschi has been injured and Horvat has had to adjust.
As good as Horvat has played, he struggled with consistency throughout the 2018-19 season. That said, the struggle was partly due to playing with a merry-go-round of wingers most of the season.
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One difference I see for the 2019-20 season, is that Horvat will have some stability around him. It couldn’t be less stable than 2018-19 and I would love to see Horvat start the season with Tanner Pearson on the left wing and Josh Leivo on the right.
I’ve liked Pearson in his time with the Canucks. I hope he’s the real deal as a scorer. At the same time, I also like Leivo’s game. He has power and he works hard. The line of Horvat, Pearson, and Leivo doesn’t have huge size – but it isn’t a pushover either. I can see that line taking on the tougher lines of any team the Canucks face.
I also think such a line would provide a different look than a line of Pettersson, Boeser, and whoever is on the left wing, which I hope to be Baertschi for a couple of reasons. First, I hope he recovers from his concussion issues. Second, I think he can provide more flash and scoring than Jake Virtanen did. I like Virtanen, but he’s more of a checker.
Reason Four: He Won’t Be the Focus Any More.
Coming into 2018-19, because Horvat had led the team in scoring, he was expected to keep leading the team in scoring. That is a lot of pressure. Funny how Pettersson removed much of that pressure.
Horvat’s game is not filled with offensive flash as much as it is filled with
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Because he’s no longer relied on offensively for the heavy lifting, he can play his own game. Ironically, I believe that not being relied upon offensively will actually result in more total offense from Horvat’s line. He’s sort of perfect as a two-way, second-line center.
Being an old-timer, the Pettersson – Horvat combination reminds me of the old Edmonton Oilers’ Gretzky – Messier combo. I know that’s saying a lot and certainly Pettersson and Horvat don’t have the body of work; however, to me their pattern of play is surprisingly similar.
What Next from Horvat?
I believe in the 2019-20 season, Horvat will become the Canucks’ captain. I also believe we will see the first of a number of 30-goal seasons from him. As Horvat grows stronger, he should become a regular in any conversation about the best two-way
It’s hard to suggest that, with 27 goals last season, a player hasn’t already had a breakout season. But, I believe as good as Horvat is, next season he will be better. Canucks fans have only started to see what Horvat can do.