Vancouver Canucks Bo Horvat: Sophomore Slump Is no Reason for Concern


Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat displayed an accelerated learning curve in his rookie season, but is struggling with increased responsibility.

When the Vancouver Canucks traded their No. 1 goaltender Cory Schneider for a draft pick in 2013, there was probably no Canucks fan whose thought was not “better not mess this one up, Gillis.” Then, Canucks Assistant GM Laurence Gilman walked up to the podium and announced the club’s selection: from the OHL’s London Knights, centre Bo Horvat. Horvat? Was he not ranked 15th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting? Yes, he was.

Luckily, rankings do not always tell the whole story. Scouts thought Horvat’s style was very similar to that of Ryan O’Reilly, who is now the No. 1 on the Buffalo Sabres’ centre depth chart and arguably one of the best two-way forwards in the league.

Indeed, Horvat and O’Reilly have many similarities. Both are very responsible defensively and both know how to score. After a rather slow start into his rookie season, Horvat got better with every game he played, and he finished the season with 13 goals and 25 points in 68 games, before adding a goal and four points in six playoff games against the Calgary Flames.

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For the 2015-16 campaign, Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins decided to give Horvat a little more responsibility, thrusting the 20-year old into the No. 2 center role behind No. 1 Henrik Sedin. Furthermore, Horvat is now getting a decent amount of power-play time. Unfortunately, he is struggling in his new role.

As a third or fourth-line centre, it is okay to focus on defence and score the occasional point. As the No. 2 centre, however, scoring should come at a much higher pace, which it has not for Horvat so far this year. In fact, he has only scored four even-strength points — all assists — and eight points total — two goals, six assists — in 26 games played in the 2015-16 campaign. Is that reason for concern?

It might be for some, but it should not be. If Horvat continues to score at the current pace, he will finish an 82-game season with a total of 25 points — far less than one would expect from a second-line centre, and far less than what the Canucks need in order to make the playoffs. But Horvat is not the only one.

Why is “sophomore slump” even an established term? It is because for whichever reason, NHL youngsters often crash after a good rookie campaign. Why do we call that a slump and say it will be over after the season instead of assuming that players are only as good as they are showing? Because for whichever reason, most players bounce back from mediocre sophomore seasons.

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Take Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon as an example. The 20-year-old Canadian was selected first overall in Horvat’s draft year and had an outstanding rookie season, leading the Avalanche to a Central Division title with 63 points in 82 regular season games and another 10 in seven playoff appearances. A year later, he often looked lost and uninspired in the offensive zone, recording only 38 points in 64 games. Of course, this would not be a good example if MacKinnon was not scoring at a point-per-game pace right now — which he is.

Nobody should expect Horvat to score 80 points next season, but he could develop just like O’Reilly, who is a great comparison because of their similarity. O’Reilly had 26 points in 81 games in his rookie season, followed by another 26 in 71 games in his sophomore year. O’Reilly then went on to score 18 goals and 55 points the season after, and turned into one of the Avalanche’s best scorers, as well as one of the league’s best defensive forwards. We remember, Horvat had 25 points last season and is on pace for 26 this year.

Then there is the defensive side of his game.

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In the graphic above you can see the difference between Horvat in 2014-15 and Horvat in 2015-16. While his Corsi For numbers are not as good as last season and he has far less points per 60 minutes, his Corsi Against numbers have improved. That results in a Corsi-For Percentage of 45.6, which is almost equal to last season’s 45.2. Still far from elite, but he is visibly improving.

Now, did the Canucks win the trade that sent Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for Bo Horvat? That is hard to say right now. The fact that Horvat and Vancouver’s current goalie, Ryan Miller, are both struggling while Schneider is absolutely outstanding in New Jersey makes it look like they clearly lost. But Horvat is only 20, and if he turns into anything similar to Ryan O’Reilly, the trade will have been well worth it for the Canucks.

*All stats from