The Vancouver Canucks have started the season with Bo Horvat on the fourth line and that will need to change soon for the Canucks to succeeed.
Bo Horvat was a top-10 pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks. If you were tuning into the Canucks for the first time on Saturday, you certainly wouldn’t know it. The Canucks chose to deploy him as a fourth-line centre primarily alongside Alex Burrows and Derek Dorsett. He saw a few shifts in the third period with Jake Virtanen and Sven Baertschi, but was primarily on the fourth line.
That cannot happen on a nightly basis if the Canucks want to win hockey games.
When Horvat first joined the Canucks, he was primarily a fourth-line centre because he was a rookie and the Canucks wanted to ease him into the NHL and start his development process slowly. Horvat succeeded in that role and chipped in 13 goals.
In his second season, Horvat was tossed into the fire due to an injury to Brandon Sutter. Although he had a slow start to the year, Horvat succeeded in that role and was a 40-point player. Coming into his third year, it was clear Horvat had surpassed a pure third or fourth-line role and was ready to be relied on as a significant part of the Canucks’ offense.
If Horvat’s ready to be a significant offensive producer, why is he playing on the fourth line? One theory suggests that Desjardins wants to balance the offense and get Burrows and Dorsett producing offensively. Burrows can certainly still produce offensively, but Dorsett will not be an offensive producer regardless of who he’s on a line with. That’s not a knock on Dorsett, it’s just not the style of game he plays.
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Another theory brought up by Hockey Night in Canada analyst Elliotte Friedman is the Canucks want to ease Horvat into the season because he only had two points last October. Nick Kypreos shot that theory down almost immediately because the Canucks should be trying to build off of Horvat’s second half instead of heading back to square one. Friedman then responded “Nick, I don’t know. I’m just trying to think of reasons why they could be doing this.”
Horvat projects as a two-way centre capable of playing a shutdown role and some reason that’s why he’s playing on the fourth line. However, that theory doesn’t hold much weight either, because Horvat isn’t going to be drawing tough matchups as a fourth-line centre.
In order for Horvat to be successful and grow in to the two-way player the Canucks hope he can be, he needs to be in match-ups with players like Connor McDavid, Sean Monahan, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton, and not on the fourth line. If there are growing pains along the way, that’s fine — because the Canucks are not a veteran-laden team with Stanley Cup aspirations. They have room for players to grow, and in order for Horvat to grow, he needs to be on the second line and not the fourth.
In Saturday’s game against Calgary, the Canucks could not produce any offense whatsoever. Baertschi, Horvat’s linemate in preseason, looked good but struggled at times without Horvat helping to create offense. Horvat and Baertschi looked great in training camp and preseason and were producing offensively. Although there isn’t much weight in what happens in preseason, the Canucks had no reason to suddenly split that combination up.
Horvat needs to develop as a second-line centre and the Canucks need Horvat’s offense in the top six. It looked like the Canucks realized that late in the third period and in overtime, as Horvat saw more time with Baertschi and Virtanen and was the second centre out for the overtime period.
However, if the Canucks go back to Horvat as a fourth-line centre for the next 10 to 20 games, then there needs to be serious questions asked about Desjardins’ job with the Vancouver Canucks.