Watching Ryan Kesler in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been a treat thus far. He’s been an integral part of the Anaheim Ducks run and upped his game to near 2011 levels. Kesler’s matched up against the other team’s top players and has done a decent job of keeping them at bay. The Vancouver Canucks had something pretty good, and it’s a shame he had to leave.
Thankfully, his successor, Bo Horvat, is still a Canuck and if the early returns are any indication, Horvat will end up being a better player than Kesler.
No, I will not hand in my resignation letter. Hear me out:
Through Horvat’s first three NHL seasons, he’s put up 25, 40 and 52 points respectively. Kesler didn’t hit 23 points until his second season when he played a full 82 games. Adding to this, Kesler didn’t even surpass that total until his fourth season in the league. Both Kesler and Horvat played in a similar fashion, facing top competition in significant ice-time — Horvat playing just slightly more than Kesler on a per game basis.
When it comes to the faceoff dot, Horvat has Kesler beat by a solid five percentage points . Bo also did it with approximately 2000 more draws than Ryan did. To maintain a percentage like that is impressive. It’s a shame the Canucks couldn’t have benefited more from Horvat’s skill in this area.
In all fairness, the Canucks have relied on Horvat to do more for them than they did with Kesler, so that’s context worth taking into account. Regardless, you can’t ignore them. And while we’re on the fairness train, what isn’t fair is how many more points Horvat’s accumulated to this point in his career. Through 231 games, Horvat has 49 goals, 68 assists and 117 points. Kesler sustained a hip injury in 2006/07 and only played 48 games that season. His totals to start his career weren’t overly impressive with 18 goals, 26 assists and 44 points.
Again, at the time, the Canucks were easing Kesler into the meat of the lineup, and he wasn’t as integral a part as Horvat is right now. What IS interesting is what happened after that season. Kesler rejected a qualifying offer from the Canucks and signed a one-year/$1.9M offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers. It would end up being a steal of a deal, but at the time of the signing, everyone thought it would inflate the market price for a player of his ilk.
Horvat has just finished his entry-level contract and the days of offer sheets appear to be over, we hope. Offensive contributions alone will net Bo a better deal than what Ryan signed, but it most likely means a bridge-type deal until his long-term one comes in a few years. It’s been speculated Horvat will earn around $4-5M per season for 2-3 years. All things considered, it’s a relatively close price to what Kesler would have made at this point.
It might be crazy to think that Horvat is actually a better player than Kesler at this stage in his career but comparing their stats, it’s reasonable to suggest that’s the case. They both dominate the faceoff circle; they both have a defensive approach to the game but can turn it on at the other end to put the puck in the net. Dishing the puck is a bit more of Bo’s thing (one could argue Kesler was a tad selfish with the puck), and both of them don’t mind dusting it up in the dirty areas.
One area that Kesler did earn himself a bit of a reputation for was the diving and the rough stuff. He saw the penalty box a lot to start his career. Kesler had 135 PIM in his first three seasons while Horvat only faced 61. Not an area to be proud of which is probably another reason why Horvat is better, he keeps his mouth shut when he needs to. It can be a fine line when trying to make a name for yourself, but that is one big difference that should benefit Bo long term.
The stats speak for themselves overall, but even on special teams, Horvat is playing chess while Kesler played checkers. Horvat has already notched seven power play goals, and 22 power play points and Kesler was still being eased in so his singular power play goal and two power play points don’t seem like much. You may not have remembered, but Pepperidge Farms remembers.
Of course, both of these players had very different starts to their careers and were in completely different situations when they began. The Sedins have climbed the ladder a bit higher since Kesler’s first few seasons but are slowly declining to the same spot as Horvat is rising — weird, right? Hopefully, Canucks head coach Travis Green can properly utilize Horvat in a system that benefits not only him but the other young stars on the team like Brock Boeser and Sven Baertschi.
As Kesler became more of a star on the Canucks, his injuries put the team in a hole, but there was enough depth to work with so he could rehab properly and eventually became the player we see today. If Horvat suffers any kind of injury early on, the rebuild everyone is looking at will take a dramatic hit and could set the process back considerably.
I only bring this up because he will get used in more and more situations and if there isn’t anyone to spell his minutes, freak injuries aren’t as random at that point. Ryan Miller could probably write a book on that theory I’m sure.
Is Horvat actually better than Kesler? Right now, no. Considering what the critics said Horvat’s ceiling was would suggest that being wrong only lasts for awhile. At some point, Bo will get better linemates, or they’ll continue to increase production as he does, the team will get better around him and the ice will once again open up, and the Canucks will have finally figured out a way to keep a player like him around without screwing things up.
It may be some time before Horvat can indeed surpass Kesler as the better player, for the Canucks anyway, but for now, the words of the great Jay-Z will have to do:
Men lie; women lie. Numbers don’t.