The 9th overall pick in the 2013 draft will enter his 6th pro season as fans clamor for him to be given the captaincy.
Time flies, doesn’t it?
Being a top-ten pick comes with great expectations, and doubly so when you’re the return for the player many saw as the Goalie of the Future.
Horvat seemed like a curious pick at #9, to say the least. Offensive production was a concern- he wasn’t a point per game player in his draft year, which is unusual for a top 10 pick out the OHL- and out of the 14 CHL forwards drafted in the first round that year, Bo was one of four who weren’t producing at least a point per game. (The other three were Curtis Lazar, Freddy Gauthier, and Jason Dickinson.)
Those who weren’t concerned about production leaned on the various scouting reports and testimony from Knights coach, Dale Hunter, which portrayed Horvat as a responsible, hard-nosed leader that could be relied upon in any situation.
During a summer that has seen support grow for the idea of Horvat being named captain, it’s safe to say that Horvat has turned into what the Canucks and Dale Hunter thought he would. This article will dive into his development into the player he is today by looking at career WAR and usage numbers.
One of my favourite things about writing a piece on Bo is that it gives us a reason to remember when he made the team in his D+1 season.
In his rookie season, Horvat offered an injection of youth into a team who had one of the oldest forward groups in the league. That older forward group, which featured names like Daniel, Henrik, Vrbata, Burrows, Higgins, Bonino, Hansen, Richardson, and Dorsett gave the rookie his first look at how NHL regulars carry themselves. Being around those veterans likely allowed Horvat to gain perspective and come away with an idea of what type of player he wanted to be : one who could be relied on in all situations.
Ever since then, Horvat has continued to improve as a player. His career WAR and GAR charts from Evolving-Hockey show that as well. WAR is an especially appropriate metric to use to evaluate a player like
The best part of the charts above is the upward trend. For young players coming into the league, you hope for this type of year-over-year improvement, but that isn’t always necessarily the case for young players carving out roles on their new teams.
For more context, he ranked here is how he has ranked league wide in WAR/60 throughout his career:
During the beginning of the 2016 season, Jackson McDonald wrote a similar piece to this one, in which he talked about expectations of Horvat coming into that 2014/15 season and those going into the 2016/17 season. At the time, the player hadn’t performed as advertised:
For a player that was lauded so much for his two-way ability, the defensive aspect of his game hasn’t really developed at the rate scouts believed it would back when Horvat was drafted. Among forwards with over 500 minutes of ice-time since 2014/15, Bo Horvat has been among the most porous defensively, ranking in the bottom 50 in Corsi and Fenwick against per 60, and ranking in the bottom 5 in goals allowed per 60.
Three full seasons have passed since that was written and we can see in the chart below that Horvat has improved on his Corsi rate of 44.79% from the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons that Jackson was speaking to.
Horvat has certainly progressed defensively, but he only just clawed back to an average CF% in 2018-19, which is far from the terrific two-way player he was advertised to be. It’s difficult to know for sure if Horvat was as great defensively as many thought he was without the supporting data. Thus far, he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations defensively, but is trending in the right direction.
In fairness to Bo, he has been put in high leverage positions many times, in some cases when he may not have been ready for them and those instances may have hurt his numbers. As a rookie he was counted on to eat up 3rd line minutes and at times during his sophomore season when Sedin and Sutter spent time on the IR, he was looked upon to fill a role in the team’s top-six. Even in this past season when Sutter and Beagle went down, we seen Bo have to take on a bigger role by taking more faceoffs, experiencing more defensive zone deployment and facing first lines more consistently.
We can see throughout the years how some of these usage stats have changed as the player has grown, especially last season.
The change in Horvat’s usage became a major talking point during last season and the numbers above reflect why. It was a massive jump in defensive zone starts and faceoffs taken in his 5th season. A definite vote of confidence from Green when those holes in the lineup needed to be filled.
Horvat’s usage over the years has contributed to the player he is today, but if you ask the organization, they would likely say that he hasn’t always been put into situations that they would have preferred. Credit to Horvat for taking on whatever has been asked of him over the years and managing to find a way to trend upwards in multiple facets of his game.
In the upcoming season it will be intriguing to see what his usage will look like and if he continues to take strides on both sides of the puck. The uncertainty of who his wingers will be and if the instability of last year’s linemates will continue will only add to that intrigue . Since it’s safe to say that Horvat has done well in terms of offensive expectations, more eyes will be on him to continue to improve defensively, especially if Travis Green continues to rely on him the way he has in the past.