Photo Credit: © Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Canucks Army Year In Review: Bo Horvat

When the Vancouver Canucks drafted Bo Horvat, many of the writers in this space questioned whether or not he would ever be more than a third-line centre. Four years later, those concerns seem pretty silly.

Not only did Horvat entrench himself in the Canucks’ top six last season — he was their best player period. That’s not a terribly high bar to clear, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Horvat finished the season with a team-leading 52 points, making him the first player in ten years not named “Sedin” to do so.

Horvat’s 2016-17 season saw him become the team’s premier offensive weapon, forming an effective duo with winger Sven Baertschi. 52 points is fringe first-line production, but Horvat still has a long road ahead of him to become a legitimate first-line centre, if he becomes one at all.

Because of how it’s weighted, Horvat’s HERO chart actually undersold his production last season. (His p/60 rate of 1.79 was in line with a low-end first-line centre.) Offensively, Horvat’s exceeded all expectations and has for all intents and purposes developed into a high-end player for the Canucks. Where he’s lagging behind, and has for quite some time now, is the defensive side of the game, or to put it more succinctly, his ability to prevent shots against.

I have no doubt that the elements of Horvat’s game that made him a defensive ace in junior are still a part of his game today. He’s positionally sound and possesses the requisite puck skills to transition the play out of harm’s way. And yet, his shot suppression numbers paint a picture of one of most permissive forwards on an already poor defensive team.

My speculation is that Horvat’s reliance on rush-scoring his hurting his defensive solvency. In most cases, the solution would be to try to generate more zone time, but Horvat is a special case. Historically, shots off the rush have a much higher conversion rate than shots generated through zone time, and Horvat’s ability to skate the puck into high-percentage areas a big part of the reason his traditional boxcar stats have been better than you’d expect based on his performance by underlying shot-based metrics. A large part of the reason he’s able to maintain a shooting percentage above the league average consistently.

This presents the Canucks with a bit of a dilemma going forward. Horvat hasn’t really lived up to the two-way potential he showed in junior, but the reasons for his permissiveness go hand-in-hand with the reasons why he’s been such an effective producer of offence up until this point. Any adjustment might only serve to make him a less effective player overall.

At this point, I’d advise the Canucks to change the way they think of Horvat, especially when it comes to usage. Horvat looks as though he’s going to be far and away their best offensive player next season, and possibly the rare type of player that can truly drive shooting percentage as opposed to just shot generation. With that in mind, I’m not sure it makes sense for him to be taking on so much defensive responsibility. The Canucks are committed to Brandon Sutter, for better or worse, and he’s shown historically that he can at the very least shoulder this type of defensive load without being a complete liability. He’s also shown that he’s never going to be more than a middling offensive player, so it would seem that the path of least resistance would be to let Sutter handle more of the high-leverage defensive situations and the PK, and let Horvat work his magic offensively.

It’s really all guesswork though. We’ve all been wrong about Horvat so many times in the past that it seems like folly to try to divine what’s going to come next for him. For three straight years now, he’s been full of surprises.

  • Pat Quinn Way

    “We’ve all been wrong about Horvat so many times in the past that it seems like folly to try to divine what’s going to come next for him.”

    The reasoning for this is quite simple and a major reason why i take analytics with the massive pinch of salt they deserve. You cannot measure key components to success in hockey like heart, passion, desire, will to win, determination, hockey iq, mental toughness etc and Bo Horvat has all these intangibles in spades. To be bluntly honest, his sheer will and determination to get better is why you guys are constantly talking about him, but he’s not talking about you.

    In summation, Bo is a shining example of an astute draft pick by Mike Gillis who has exceeded expectations and will undoubtedly be a top two centre on the team for years to come. Like fellow Gillis signing Chris Tanev, Benning’s lacklustre regime cannot get a sniff of acquiring high end talent like these two guys and that’s why we desperately need a fresh start here asap – after all, as i’m sure you’ll agree Jacks, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem…

    • Bud Poile

      Shame Gillis lost two NHL starting goaltenders (one a potential HHOF’er) just to acquire one prospect.
      Perhaps if Gillis hadn’t isolated Luongo and signed him to an untradeble contract he wouldn’t have lost both Jennings winners for peanuts.
      The loss of six years of Schneider’s development time just adds to Gillis’ legacy.

      • vancouver millionaire

        is this a joke post? luongo demanded to be traded through his agent for being benched by coach torts in a national televised outdoor game against ottawa so it had nothin to do with the gm. schneider was pretty crap anyway and like luongo folded in the playoffs. in truth neither have done anything since leaving vancouver and bo horvat is a much better option than either for the vancouver canucks moving forward. a brilliant pick and face of the franchise for years to come. already renewed my season ticket to watch him. have you?

    • Silverback

      That first and second paragraph had me wondering what happened. You were making sense, then you made the story all about Gillis. Can’t you just get over your bromance with the man? Tiresome.

  • Killer Marmot

    I am getting a little concerned that Horvat has not been resigned.

    Given that he is a restricted free agent and that the Canucks have plenty of cap space, there shouldn’t be a problem. Still, he’s the Canucks most critical player and I’ll breath easier when it’s done.

    • lungofd

      Apparently, his agent is known for holding out on deals like this. Expect a 5 year deal that takes Horvat till he’s 27 so he can get his big UFA contract, and don’t expect a deal done until at least September rolls around. Horvat’s camp is in no rush. Waiting is only a good thing for them. For example, cap just went up $2 million for next season. Drouin just got signed to a big 6 year $33 million deal. Good comparable? All these are things Horvat’s agent can use against the Canucks do get a Horvat more money. Wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t wait.

      • TD

        That’s a big assumption that the delay was from Benning and not Horvat and his agent. If it benefits Horvat to wait, I can only assume his agent would know that and delay.

      • DJ_44

        Who is the “they” you are referring to in the last sentence. I can only assume is is the Horvat camp, and as you correctly pointed out in the rest of the article. Can you blame the Horvat camp for delaying? It is not like there is going to be a flood of 21 yr old RFA centers coming onto the open market.