Bo Horvat entered the 2014-15 Canucks training camp with one thing on his mind, and that was making the Canucks roster out of camp. Bo’s goal was not an easy task and he had to win the coaching staff over. Yet, Horvat made the team and gave fans a glimpse of what he is capable of.
Horvat improved his skating ability, which was his greatest weakness, and became a force to be reckoned with for opposing teams. Quickly becoming popular with Canuck fans, he was the first teenager since Trevor Linden to make the team out of camp.
When training camp started for the Canucks, expectations were high. Bo came in looking to start where he left off in the 2014-15 playoffs. He was not coming into camp as a rookie; he was coming into camp as a veteran. Everyone, including himself were expecting big things for the new season. He was expected to lead the trio of rookies and wrestle the second line center spot from Brandon Sutter.
Training camp saw the 20-year old Horvat meet all expectations. He led the Canucks against the Edmonton Oilers and saw his line score 10 points. This was without the help of having the Sedins taking the harder defensive match ups and having to face the Oilers’ full line up.
Now, the Canucks are 24 games into the 2015-16 season and Horvat has been given the second line center position out of need, not because of performance. Brandon Sutter has been sidelined with an abdominal injury since November 10. All of a sudden, all eyes are on Horvat to be the veteran second line center the Canucks desperately need.
Unfortunately, this has not been an easy transition for him. Horvat was thrown into the fire and has not succeeded as well as many people hoped.
Horvat has taken 30.16 percent of Vancouver’s defensive zone faceoffs in 5v5 situations. Let that sink in for a moment. He is responsible for approximately every third faceoff the Canucks have in their own end, and that is an important role to hold. On the penalty kill, he is typically the first center to start the kill. This means Horvat sees a fair amount of short-handed minutes per game, averaging almost two and a half minutes.
While faceoffs do not necessarily equate to offensive success, they are an important aspect of keeping the puck from the opposing team, especially in the defensive end. Since Horvat is facing tough defensive match ups, duelling in the faceoff dot is much harder. He currently has a faceoff win percentage of 47.9 percent.
While Horvat has not thrived with the situations he has been placed in, he has given rookie center Jared McCann easier match ups. As a result, McCann’s transition into the NHL has been relatively easy and has seen him become an important part of the Canucks’ roster. Horvat has the trust of head coach Willie Desjardins, which is evidenced by him seeing so many defensive zone starts.
Horvat has also averaged nearly two minutes of powerplay time for the Canucks on their second unit. While putting inexperienced players out on the powerplay is a lot easier for a coach than putting them on the penalty kill, they are still trusted to produce offensively.
Horvat’s Corsi For percentage does not match up to a high level of play. He currently has a Corsi For percentage of 46.1 in 5v5 situations. When coupled with the amount of non-offensive zone starts Horvat is receiving, Corsi For percentage does not tell the whole story of his development.
Horvat’s lack of offensive zone possession also explains his lack of offensive production. He has merely two goals and six assists to this point in the season. While critics will be quick to whisper “bust,” Desjardins has been forced to put Horvat in a defensive role and literally have him take one for the team, in terms of his offensive possession.
While the 2015-16 season has not been ideal for Bo Horvat, the Canucks are slowly seeing him develop properly. The return of Brandon Sutter cannot come soon enough, in order for him to reach the next level. When Sutter returns, Horvat will not have to take the lion share of defensive assignments and can work on his offensive game.
The “kid line” experiment of Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, and Sven Baertschi did not last long when the 2015-16 regular season started. However, when the trio were placed together, Horvat experienced his best possession statistics. While the amount of time together was a small sample size, they point to future offensive success. The fact the “kid line” is not together more regularly is most likely due to the match ups Horvat is facing, requiring him to center players better known for their two-way ability.
The trial by fire Horvat is experiencing is exactly what the Canucks need him to face to reach the next level. While expecting him to suddenly blossom into a star this season is too high of an expectation, Horvat is showing that he has strong defensive skills, which could develop into an elite level. Desjardins has fast tracked the defensive development of the sophomore and has received good results.
(Advanced statistics courtesy of war-on-ice.com and Puckalytics.com)