— Province Sports (@provincesports) December 15, 2014
Despite the impending returns of some of Vancouver’s depth forwards from injury and the roster crunch that’s sure to ensue, the Vancouver Canucks have opted not to release Bo Horvat to join Team Canada for the upcoming World Junior Championships later this month.
Read past the jump for our initial thoughts and reactions.
Selfishly, as someone who loves the World Juniors above all other hockey tournaments, I’m disappointed that Bo Horvat will not suit up for Canada this year because I’d love nothing more than to see him star on that stage and help Canada bring back the gold medal. The Canadians have pretty fantastic depth down the middle though, as they could potentially roll with their three top centres being Connor McDavid, Sam Reinhart, and Nic Petan, but Hockey Canada would still make room for Horvat, either by bumping Petan to the wing or having him support the 4th line.
The Canucks want Horvat with Vancouver though, as they feel that he’s been a consistent contributor to the team. Jim Benning made the following comments about Horvat in the Canucks press release:
He is a solid two-way player, strong in the faceoff circle and displays a maturity beyond his years. We’re very pleased with Bo’s play and look forward to watching him develop as an NHL player.
The problem is that while Horvat definitely has the potential to develop into an excellent two-way player, is already a faceoff ace, and no doubt does display maturity beyond his years, he has been quite terrible on the whole this season. He had one fantastic week, scoring against Anaheim and adding three assists against Chicago the next day, but has otherwise been rather shaky. His 43.9% Corsi ranks him 335th in the NHL, and 2nd last on Vancouver, despite seeing easily the softest competition that Willie Desjardins can get him and the 3rd highest offensive zone start percentage on the team.
This isn’t to say that you should be at all concerned about Horvat. He’s a 19-year old kid playing in the best men’s league in the world, and struggles are entirely expected and par-for-the-course when it comes to guys 20 and under – it’s for this reason, and for the future contractual benefits from saving a year on his ELC, why I thought during training camp he still needed another year of junior hockey to further improve his game. I’d rather see him in a situation where he’s working on refining his abilities to be an impact player than I would in one where he’s thrown to the wolves an struggles to keep his head above water.
I thought Horvat had turned a corner around that Chicago game, so it’s understandable why Vancouver kept him around. And with this news today, Horvat will assuredly be on Vancouver’s roster until the end of the season, barring injury of course. Not attending the World Juniors is a fairly significant missed opportunity for Horvat, but in the grand scheme of things, it shouldn’t affect his development into a capable NHLer one way or the other.
In other news, Jake Virtanen has been tearing up Canada’s WJC pre-tournament games against the CIS All-Stars. Virtanen scored twice and added four assists in two games over the weekend, as Canada lit up the CIS by a combined score of 16-3. Virtanen was skating with Connor McDavid and high-scoring St. Louis Blues prospect Robby Fabbri yesterday on the second line, but was playing the right side on a fourth line with meat-and-potatoes style guys Frederik Gauthier and Lawson Crouse this morning, as Nic Petan took his spot with McDavid and Fabbri.
As Virtanen is one of the three right handed forwards remaining in camp, and one of the only natural wingers, it’s basically a given that he makes the team at this point. In a perfect world, I’d like to see Virtanen in the top-6 so Canada can spread their top scorers through the lineup and have a deadly 3-line attack. Also, “Jake you stand there and shoot when I get you the puck because I’m Connor McDavid and I will get you the puck” seems like it would be a) really fun, and b) a recipe for all the goals.
Bo Horvat and the Canucks play their next game on Wednesday against the Dallas Stars, while Jake Virtanen and team Canada take on the Russians in WJC pre-tournament action this Friday at 4:00 PM Pacific time. That game can be seen on TSN.