Coming off a strong playoff performance, Bo Horvat is set up to try and captain this Vancouver Canucks team right back to the dance.
Last season Bo Horvat was named captain just before the season began. He proudly donned the “C” in the home opener of the season last year and had been an excellent captain for the Canucks since.
Drafted as a player who projected as a middle-six centre, Horvat has been able to find success on the power play unit to drastically boost his scoring totals over the past few years, including a 12 power play goal season last year in only 69 games.
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Horvat has found a home in the bumper position on the Canucks’ power play and has quietly scored 28 power play goals over the past three seasons, seven goals ahead of second-place Brock Boeser over that same time period.
His faceoff percentage skyrocketed last season putting him near the top of the league with a 57.3% faceoff winning percentage. He is relied upon to be the centre out on the ice at the end of games to put a lead to sleep. Since adding Tanner Pearson to his wing, Horvat has been able to control the Corsi for percentage for the first time in his six-year career. He has also been controlling the expected goal share and been just under 50% for control of scoring chances.
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Now we get to Nils Hoglander. He found himself on Horvat’s wing to kick camp off and all signs point to Hoglander being there on opening night.
Hoglander has impressed everyone at camp including Horvat who said, “I think he is. He’s got tremendous skill and speed,” when asked if he thought Hoglander was ready for the NHL. “Tanner and I are just starting to get to know him. We want to build chemistry and hopefully, we can stay together for a long time. I feel he’s ready to go.”
It’s true that the wunderkind has shown well in this camp. Every day this week, those in attendance have been leaving the rink saying that he could have been the best player on the ice.
Hoglander is a highly skilled player who projected as a top-six talent, but many, including myself, believed that he would make more sense playing on a top-six line away from Horvat. The thing that I didn’t take into consideration was the condensed rink transition that Hoglander would be going through and how that could affect his game.
The smaller ice seems to put more of a spotlight on Hoglander’s quick reflexes and edge work when skating with or around the puck. Each corner is close in the offensive and defensive zones and his tenacity has been beneficial to his success at this camp. The narrower ice has put more pressure on Hoglander to make good passes with limited time to think and he has shown that this is not a problem for him.
The ongoing question of “who will play with Bo Horvat?” was half answered when they brought in Pearson. But the Canucks still had questions in their top six and that resulted in trading away Tyler Madden and 2020 second-round pick for Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli boosted the top six but even when Brock Boeser returned from injury last season, we saw a player like Loui Eriksson used on the Horvat line at times.
Adding Hoglander to the Horvat line gives it a very different look. It opens up the door for the Canucks to match first lines with the rest of the Canadian division and we could see some Pettersson vs McDavid/Matthews matchups that will certainly excite the country.
With Hoglander, the second line now can matchup against more bottom nine lines. They will play weaker competition than they did last season and Hoglander’s ability to pass through the neutral zone will result in more offensive possession for Horvat. This is excellent news as Horvat has shown the ability to beat goaltenders in a variety of different ways.
The added scoring potential of the second line should give the captain all the chances to now show that he is a quality second-line centre who dominates in the faceoff circle and can play against any level of competition but feast on weaker matchups.
Horvat was the homerun decision to become the Canucks’ captain after a year of vacancy in 2018-19.
There were veteran options for the Canucks to make their captain at the beginning of the 2019-20 season. Brandon Sutter is a 13-year vet and shows leadership qualities with his vast knowledge of the NHL. He’s just not in a position to be a leader on the ice. The Canucks are run by their young players and need to have support from the veterans that Jim Benning has acquired over the past few years.
I asked Sutter to speak a bit about Horvat’s first year as the captain. “It was really good for him,” said Sutter. “Early in the season there was a lot of stuff going on with it and all the attention of it was probably the hardest part of it for him. That’s tough, especially in this market. He handled it really well, after the first few weeks of the season he settled in and had a solid year for us. You can see the way he was in the playoffs too. Now he’s comfortable with where he’s at and he’s a guy we lean on when we need a boost.”
Alex Edler is the longest-tenured Canucks player. He is now entering his 15th season with the Canucks and has seen a couple of great captains and also been through a time where Roberto Luongo held the “C”. I asked Edler what he thought about Horvat’s rookie captain season, “he’s very responsible and has great leadership” said Edler. “I think we all knew that from the beginning when he came here. I think it was a good time for him to get the “C” and I think he did a good job. He leads on and off the ice, which is good.”
Now the captain is comfortable with his role after dealing with a transition into being the true leader off the ice for this team. With Horvat sporting the “C”, it takes some pressure off their young superstars like Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. The added leaders like Tyler Myers, J.T. Miller and Nate Schmidt do nothing but aid Horvat in keeping a tight locker room in order.
Coming into the 2021 season, the Canucks have one of the hardest working centres in the division. Horvat brings a two-way style that the Canucks second line needs and with the addition of Hoglander, the second line could be even more of a producer at even strength.
There should be no sophomore slump for Horvat in his second year as the captain. He knows the market, knows the core group and is very accepting of young players joining the group to make the team better. Horvat was practically perfect in his role as the captain last season and now looks to grow even more as a leader in a season where the team will have plenty of ups and downs.