Green sees more com­ing from Hor­vat

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The Prince George Citizen - - SPORTS - Joshua CLIPPERTON

ravis Green’s ini­tial up-close look at Bo Hor­vat came in his first few months as a head coach.

Green, then in an in­terim role with the WHL’s Port­land Win­ter­hawks, and Hor­vat, an 18-year-old cen­tre for the OHL’s Lon­don Knights, were on op­po­site sides at the 2013 Me­mo­rial Cup.

Port­land beat Lon­don in the round-robin por­tion of ju­nior hockey’s show­case tour­na­ment be­fore also tak­ing the semi­fi­nal in a game where Hor­vat had a chance to tie it on a re­bound with less than 20 sec­onds left in reg­u­la­tion.

“He was a great player then,” said Green, whose Win­ter­hawks would even­tu­ally fall to the QMJHL’s Hal­i­fax Moose­heads in the fi­nal.

Nearly 4 1/2 years later, Green will be lean­ing heav­ily on Hor­vat as the rookie NHL coach em­barks on the dif­fi­cult task of try­ing to drag the Van­cou­ver Canucks out of the dol­drums.

“I re­ally like the way he’s pro­gressed,” Green con­tin­ued. “His com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing as a player has been a big rea­son why he’s got­ten to where he has.”

If there was ever any doubt Hor­vat is the face of the Canucks’ re­build, it went out the win­dow af­ter he signed a six-year, US$33mil­lion con­tract last week.

Hor­vat be­came the first player not named Sedin since 2006-07 to lead the Canucks in scor­ing when he fin­ished with 52 points last sea­son for a club that wound up 29th in the over­all stand­ings and near the bot­tom of the league in a num­ber of of­fen­sive cat­e­gories

Van­cou­ver scored a fran­chis­elow 178 goals to go along with the league’s sec­ond-worst power play and the third-worst penalty kill on the way to miss­ing the play­offs for the third time in four springs.

Set to en­ter his fourth NHL sea­son, Hor­vat un­der­stands in­creased pres­sure comes with the ter­ri­tory when there are more ze­ros on your pay­cheque.

But that’s noth­ing new for the 22-year-old com­ing off his first all­star ap­pear­ance.

Apart from the Me­mo­rial Cup, he’s dealt with the scru­tiny of be­ing drafted ninth over­all in 2013 – a pick Van­cou­ver ac­quired from New Jersey for goalie Cory Schneider – the world ju­niors, stick­ing in the NHL at 19, a 27-game goal­drought and a mi­nus-30 rat­ing the fol­low­ing sea­son, and the in­creased role he as­sumed in 201617 af­ter start­ing the cam­paign on the fourth line.

“There’s al­ways been pres­sure,” the even-keeled Hor­vat said ear­lier this week as the Canucks opened train­ing camp. “Things don’t change.”

He said look­ing a cou­ple stalls down in the locker-room to Hen­rik and Daniel Sedin, Van­cou­ver’s undis­puted lead­ers for more than a decade, has helped pre­pare him for what comes next.

“They’ve prob­a­bly had one of the big­ger im­pacts on me,” said Hor­vat. “Just watch­ing them every day, how they con­duct them­selves... on the ice and off the ice, they’re pros.”

Billed as a two-way player com­ing out of ju­nior, Hor­vat has al­ready smashed through the glass ceil­ing of where he was pro­jected to be of­fen­sively at this stage of his ca­reer. His skat­ing has im­proved dras­ti­cally, and the na­tive of Rod­ney, Ont., saw a slight in­crease in power-play time last sea­son, al­though not enough in the eyes of many ob­servers for a team starv­ing for a goals.

“He works hard, takes his game se­ri­ously,” said Green, who re­places the fired Wil­lie Des­jardins be­hind Van­cou­ver’s bench af­ter four sea­sons with the club’s AHL af­fil­i­ate. “He’s not wor­ried about be­ing the lead­ing scorer or a first­line cen­tre, sec­ond-line cen­tre.

“Bo Hor­vat’s just a guy that wants to win.”

Hor­vat fin­ished 2016-17 with 20 goals and 32 as­sists, mesh­ing well with wingers Sven Baertschi and Alexan­dre Bur­rows be­fore the lat­ter was dealt at the trade dead­line.

But while his of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion has ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions, Hor­vat’s de­fen­sive side, the one that was a big part of why he was se­lected in the top-10 at the draft, has lagged be­hind.

“He’s a young man still,” said Green, whose team will play two his­toric ex­hi­bi­tion games in China against the Los An­ge­les Kings next week. “He’s still got lit­tle areas in his game that he can get bet­ter at.

“De­fen­sively, he’s go­ing to learn.”

Hor­vat’s even-strength shot dif­fer­en­tial, a statis­tic that helps de­ter­mine puck pos­ses­sion, has im­proved over his three sea­sons, but re­mains be­low 50 per cent, while his face­off num­bers have ticked up slightly to 51.4 per cent.

“It’s just the men­tal part,” said Hor­vat. “I have to keep think­ing about my de­fen­sive part and be­ing able to play against the top guys and shut those guys down, but also be a threat of­fen­sively.

“If I can add both those parts to my game and be good at both those things it’s just an­other step to be­ing a com­plete player.”

Reach­ing that goal will go a long way in help­ing the Canucks get back to re­spectabil­ity.

“I’m anx­ious to see where he gets to,” said Green. “We haven’t seen the best of Bo Hor­vat.”

— Travis Green

CP FILE PHOTO

Van­cou­ver Canucks for­ward Bo Hor­vat pauses while an­swer­ing ques­tions dur­ing an end-of-sea­son news con­fer­ence in Van­cou­ver last April. Last week, the Canucks signed him to a US $33-mil­lion, six-year con­tract ex­ten­sion.

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