Green sees more coming from Horvat
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
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.