Bo Horvat is breaking out in his late-20s, and is the latest in a long line of Canucks captains to do so

Photo credit:© Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
We don’t know exactly when you’ll be reading this, but we still feel it’s pretty safe to say that Bo Horvat either just scored, is currently scoring, or is about to score.
There hasn’t been much in between thus far on the 2022/23 Vancouver Canucks season.
As of this particular moment in time, Horvat is up to an absolutely staggering 17 goals and 24 points in 22 games. That puts him second on his team in scoring, second to Jason Robertson for the league lead in goals, and well on his way to shattering any of his own previous career highs.
The captain is, as the kids say, on one.
One what? That’s what we’re here to talk about.
The longer that Horvat continues his dominant offensive performance, the harder it is to call this any sort of streak.
Sure, there’s an element of luck to Horvat’s success. He’s currently scoring on 23.6% of his shots, which is quite high. That right there is a sign that Horvat won’t continue to score goals at this same blistering rate forever. But that’s not news: no one short of Wayne Gretzky could be expected to consistently score goals at such a rate.
The reality is, however, that Horvat has always had a rather high shooting rate. Last season, he scored on approximately 16% of his shots. The year before, it was 14.5%. There’s an uptick this year, but it’s not excessively dramatic, and it could be seen as, at least partially, a natural progression.
Horvat is, quite simply, getting better at shooting, having already been pretty good at it.
Other fortune-based stats back up the notion that Horvat’s breakout is more legitimate than lucky. Only a third of his goals have come on the power play, which is a reasonable ratio. He’s scoring with a wide variety of linemates, with a third of his 5v5 points each occurring with a different set of wingers.
His expected goals are lower than his actual goals, but that’s also a measure of his deployment. His on-ice shooting percentage is high, but his on-ice save-percentage is low. He’s maybe scoring some goals that he shouldn’t, but not because he’s getting good bounces.
Horvat, armed with skill and determination, is wiring and willing pucks into the net. The patented eye-test hasn’t come up with many goals that it didn’t look like Horvat deserved to score.
In other words, even if Horvat cools off eventually — and he will — he’s still clearly taken his offensive game to a brand-new level. He’s broken out — again — at the age of 27, going on 28.
Which is unusual, right? NHL players are generally expected to reach peak effectiveness between the ages of about 23 to 25, and that number is trending downward as the NHL becomes a young player’s league.
To break out at 27 is not unheard of, but it is a little bit unexpected.
Unless that player is, like Horvat, a captain of the Vancouver Canucks.
In that case, a late-20s breakout is almost a franchise tradition by this point.
Horvat was preceded in the role by Henrik Sedin, and the Sedins are sort of the gold standard of late-career breakouts.
After years of being called a “bust” and much worse, Henrik (and Daniel) finally had a good season in the post-lockout 2005/06 campaign. That breakout led to a subsequent explosion in production.
Henrik crested the PPG threshold for the first time in 2008/09 at the age of 28, one year older than Horvat is now. And the Sedins stayed in that range for three more seasons thereafter, before beginning a decline in their early-30s.
We wouldn’t dare forget about captain Roberto Luongo, either, who never quite managed an offensive breakout season, but did start posting the best statistics of his career as soon as he arrived in Vancouver at the age of — you guessed it — 27 years old.
Prior to Luongo, the next most recent captain was Markus Naslund. He’d already achieved “bust” status by the time he made it to Vancouver at the age of 22, and he remained in his struggles for a few years thereafter.
Then, he started to score.
Naslund crossed the PPG threshold for the first time in 2000/01 — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — at the age of 27. He kept his production there for four seasons running, cresting in 2002/03 with 104 points in 82 games. Naslund’s decline didn’t truly begin until the 2006/07 campaign at the age of 33.
Now, we almost skipped this next bit, but for the sake of completion — and with apologies — we’re going to do it.
The captain who served prior to Naslund was Mark (boo!) Messier (hiss!).
Believe it or not, despite not making it to Vancouver until he was already 37 years old (and evil), Messier also experienced the greatest production of his career at the age of 27. He’d crested a point-per-game already a few times before that, but the 1987/88 brought Messier 111 points in 77 games, a Stanley Cup, and his best season ever.
Messier would maintain a PPG or greater for quite some time thereafter. His first sub-PPG season was 1997/98…his first in Vancouver.
We now resume our despising of Mark Messier, already in progress.
That forthwith-unmentioned individual infamously usurped the captaincy from Trevor Linden. And it’s Linden that we have to go back to in order to find the most recent Canucks captain who did not break out at the age of 27 or later.
Linden had his best season in 1995/96 at the age of 25. That year, he put up 80 points in 82 games, and then began a slow and gradual decline thereafter. Then again, maybe Linden would have experienced a breakout at age 27 had the Canucks kept him around. Instead, they traded him to the New York Islanders halfway through that year.
Look, we know that we’re only dealing with a five-captain sample size here, and that’s not very significant. But it’s at least a little bit interesting that Horvat, instead of being anomalous, is just the very latest in a long line of Canucks captains breaking out in their late-20s.
If the examples of Sedin, Luongo, Naslund, and whoever else are anything to go by, we can all feel a little safer about Horvat’s own breakout being a legitimate one, and a sustainable one, at that. All of the above broke out and stayed broke out into their 30s.
If Horvat can do the same, there will be no complaints.
Unless that sustained performance ends up occurring on another team.
Then, there will be plenty of complaints.

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