Bo Horvat will require a fundamental change to reach the next level

VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 5: Bo Horvat #53 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena April 5, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n
VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 5: Bo Horvat #53 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena April 5, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)"n /
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Bo Horvat has trended very well from an offensive point of view. However, are seeing him start to stagnate as he approaches his prime years? Horvat wants to be among the best and he will have to make a substantial change to get there.

Bo Horvat has a lot going for him right now. Vancouver Canucks fans are ready to declare him the next captain of the team and he is establishing himself as a number one centre. He is where the next generation starts and after four years, is becoming one of the veteran voices in the room.

Horvat turns 24 years old next April, which will be the beginning of his statistical prime years. We have seen Horvat make incredible strides on offence, but the kid from Rodney, Ontario wants to be more than that.

Earlier this week, Horvat was also on Sportsnet 650 to give a radio interview. They talked about certain things such as the future captaincy, where the team is at and advice for Elias Pettersson. But the most interesting thing was where Horvat wants to take his game.

That’s the sort of thing Canucks fans want to hear. There was never any doubt that Horvat wanted to strive for excellence. But as we should all realize, his game is far from complete. We’ve heard it before. Horvat wants to be “the guy.” The perfect player that excels in all three zones, playing in every single situation.

That’s what got me thinking. Horvat is playing very well now, but is there the possibility of him hitting a plateau? I’m going to show you his offensive progression, particularly at even strength to show you why last year was more than just a small setback. Furthermore, there is something fundamental that has to change to improve the weakest part of game: defence.

The Offence

Creating offence has not been a problem for Horvat on the surface. An injury took a chunk out of his season, but he was on pace for 56 points over 82 games. Not a huge jump from the 52-point campaign he had the season prior. And this was with the addition of Brock Boeser on his wing.

As we dig deeper, we can see how Horvat produced at even strength and at 5v5. Remember, even strength includes 4-on-4 situations and overtime if you were wondering about the difference. The Canucks had a top-10 power play last season and Horvat was a beneficiary from it. Power play production is not a strong predictor of long term success, which is why we lean more on even strength. Here’s a chart breaking down Horvat’s points; situational and contextualizing ice time.

SeasonES PPG (Pts/GP)5v5 PPG (Pts/GP)ES Pts per hour5v5 Pts per hour
2014-150.35 (24/68)0.32 (22/68)1.881.77
2015-160.34 (28/82)0.29 (24/82)1.571.43
2016-170.49 (40/81)0.42 (34/81)2.081.87
2017-180.47 (30/64)0.44 (28/64)1.871.86

*Stats collected from Natural Stat Trick

As you can see, there isn’t much of a difference between Horvat’s last two seasons. Sure, you can chalk it up to injury, or perhaps, Horvat got a more favourable boost from the power play. Over an 82-game season, Horvat was on pace for 38 even strength points. And looking at his points per hour, is progression has slowed to say the least.

Horvat may clear the low water mark for first line production, but he wants to be one of the best. He will have to produce far better than that to hit that height. As he is now, it will be difficult for Horvat to be that 70-75 point centre that people hope he will be. I think that’s still possible, but something needs to drastically change.

A fundamental change

Now, I’m going to walk away from the stats. Normally, I lean on those to do a lot of my analysis, but the changes Horvat needs to make can only be described qualitatively. Horvat is one of biggest and strongest forwards on the Canucks roster. However, he doesn’t really use his size to his advantage.

In the offensive zone, Horvat uses his speed to his advantage, but often tries to go for the dangle play to score or set up a goal. The problem with this is that it won’t work every time. And when that option is cut off, Horvat doesn’t have a lot to work with.

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Another limiting issue is play along the boards and in the corners. Yes, he’s quick and can protect the puck fairly well, but he is not winning as many board battles as he should. I don’t mean just throwing hits, although it would nicer if he had a more physical presence out there.

Horvat is built like a bull and sometimes we see that on display, but the problem is we don’t see it all of the time. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team, but at the same time Horvat can give up on play out of frustration. This becomes most problematic in overtime when he’s coasting to the bench and an odd-man rush is going the other way.

I get that Bo is his own toughest critic, but he can’t be mad at himself and zone out of the play. Puck retrieval is very important for centres and Horvat needs to improve in that area. The young centre wants to model his game after Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. Those players are not soft in the corners. They enter the zone with near perfection. It’s a high standard to achieve, but Horvat needs to realize that speed alone won’t get him there.

You may think I’m treating him like a grinder, but Horvat needs to engage more along the boards. That will keep the puck in his possession longer and breaking up defensive schemes will result in more offensive chances.

A good test for Travis Green

I don’t see eye to eye with Travis Green on a lot of things, but this is where he can prove he is worth his salt. The areas where Horvat needs help are a specialty for coaches like Green. This is not something that will change overnight; it could take a whole season. But changing Horvat’s approach on the ice could be done if Green phrases it correctly.

And the good news, if Horvat can make those changes in the offensive zone, it will pay dividends on defence. To put is nicely, Horvat struggles on that side of the puck. He often bites on the first move and is caught chasing instead of reading the play.

This is why I would prefer Horvat fixes his game at even strength first. It doesn’t make sense to throw Horvat out on the penalty kill when he is so poor defensively. If Green can see that, he will get a lot of Horvat. Coaches say that the NHL is not a development league, but I disagree.

Bo Horvat is the perfect test of Green’s ability to teach. If he can identify these shortcomings and teach Horvat how to fix that, then the future captain should have no problem becoming an elite centre.

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He may one day be that the perfect three zone player that we would love to see. Or he becomes an elite offensive talent who isn’t a detriment on defence. For Horvat, it’s all about reaching the next level. Getting there will take a lot of work and some perspective. I can trust in Green and Horvat to make this happen. They should always look to improve and I think that’s what we’re seeing. Wanting is a lot different from doing, but I’m sure they will get there.