It’s a new Vancouver Canucks season, which brings new players and a renewed hope for the team. Now the torch has been passed and there’s a new captain. That’s Bo Horvat.
Horvat was named the 14th captain in the history of the Canucks during a pregame ceremony prior to Vancouver’s home opener against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday.
There had been speculation that Horvat would be named the Canucks’ captain after serving as an alternate last season and, really, Horvat’s choice as captain wasn’t much of a surprise. He’s been growing into the job for several seasons.
Now in his sixth Canucks’ season, Horvat is the team’s first captain since Henrik Sedin wore the “C” in 2017-18. What kind of a captain will the 24-year-old Horvat be? As he noted himself, “I’m not going to be the most vocal guy. I’ll definitely say some things here and there in the dressing room, but I think my play on the ice, leading by example, and trying to be positive night in and night out.”
In this post, I want to take a look back at Horvat’s career and suggest why I believe he’ll be a strong captain.
How Did Horvat Come to the Canucks?
Horvat was drafted in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, when the Canucks traded goaltender Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils and acquired the ninth overall pick in return. He signed a three-year, entry-level contract on Aug. 6, 2013, and played his first NHL game on Nov. 4, 2014, against the Colorado Avalanche. His first NHL goal came on Nov. 20, 2013, against Frederik Andersen, then of the Anaheim Ducks.
Horvat quickly became a favorite of the Canucks fans. He just has that way about him. I also know, from being a hockey card collector myself, that he’s been a favorite of Canucks’ collectors for years. In my experience, he’s the favorite Canucks’ player. Pavel Bure cards and Trevor Linden cards are popular, but I think Horvat cards are more popular.
In this post, I want to explicate three reasons I believe he was the right choice for captain.
Reason One: He Carries Responsibility Well
Before last season (2018-19), a great amount of responsibility was placed on Horvat. That season began with two unknowns. First, would Horvat struggle with the added pressure of being “the man” in Vancouver? When the Sedin twins retired, he was the player who was informally charged with picking up the load in the wake of their departure.
Furthermore, he had greater expectations placed upon him. He was expected to carry the team’s defense, take more of the team’s late-game face-offs, and play the other team’s toughest lines so that rookie Elias Pettersson might have easier assignments.
If last season was his test, Horvat was up to the challenge. He took on those extra responsibilities and played even better because of them. He was great on faceoffs and ended the season with 27 goals and 34 assists, both personal highs. He seemed ready for more responsibility, not less.
You can see it in his statistics over the five solid seasons Horvat has played. Starting in 2014-15, he played 68 games with 25 points (13 goals). In 2015-16, he played 82 games with 40 points (16 goals). In 2016-17, 81 games with 52 points (20 goals). In 2017-18, 64 games with 44 points (22 goals). Then, last season he played 82 games with 61 points (27 goals). He’s improved.
It’s not hard to see his steady progress from season to season. He’s a player who’s gaining both experience and strength each season. Without much visible swagger, he’s become the alpha dog in the room. As a player on the ice, there is no reason why he won’t get better. I’m predicting he’ll score over 30 goals this season. And I don’t think we’ve seen the top-end of his production yet.
Reason Two: Horvat Puts In the Work
The Canucks experienced defenseman Chris Tanev said it well when reviewing Horvat’s character.
“We’re all very close and we all feed off each other,” Tanev noted. “But, I mean, Bo’s our leader. He’s put in the work. Ever since he’s been drafted he’s gotten better and better. You can see it off the ice too, how he carries himself and treats everyone. There’s definitely going to be no regrets with this decision.”
That’s high praise for a player who’s been with the Canucks for 10 seasons. Obviously, although Tanev was lauding Horvat’s leadership, he was also pointing out some of his own thoughts about what’s important to a hockey player – hard work, improvement, deportment, and the way he treats other people. Those are quality characteristics for a good leader. I agree and, like Tanev, I don’t think Horvat is the kind of a person who will embarrass his team.
Reason Three: He’s the Same Guy On and Off the Ice
Brandon Sutter, who’s now in his 12th season, echoed Tanev’s comments. He specifically noted that “Everyone has their own personality and with Bo, he’s been the same guy. He doesn’t change who he is and he’ll be the same going forward. That’s what makes him Bo and makes him a leader.”
It’s interesting that both experienced players – Tanev and Sutter – valued transparency as a key aspect of leadership. The phrase “he’s the same guy” suggests how much players appreciate a level of consistency in how things are handled. Horvat is that kind of player as well. He’s not an offensively flashy guy as much as he’s a player with the will and the determination to succeed. Pettersson has the flare, but Horvat can change the course of a game with the power of his desire. That desire on display is what Horvat alluded to as leading by example. And, Horvat has shown it.
What Next from Horvat?
Prior to the team’s home opener, Horvat becomes the captain of the new-look Canucks. What should we expect?
Although it’s nice to win a hockey game 8-2 with the offense clicking on all cylinders, that’s probably too much to hope for from the team. However, it’s a good sign. I believe the team will do better than it has in a number of seasons.
I also believe we will see Horvat have the first of a number of 30-goal seasons. As Horvat grows stronger, he should become a regular in conversations about the best two-way centers in the NHL.
Finally, I believe Canucks fans have only started to see what Horvat can do – both as a leader and as a player. He was the right choice for captain.