We’re over a month into the season now and despite the numerous additions this team made during the offseason, they’re still struggling to find wingers who can get the most out of Bo Horvat. The success of the Lotto Line was instrumental to the team’s success earlier this year, but it’s put Horvat in a difficult position, given his limited success with the team’s remaining wingers. Who would you like to see get an extended look on the Horvat line?
Bo Horvat can do it all. He’s equally adept setting up and executing a complex offensive play as he is grabbing the puck and driving it to the net – and as such, he needs a linemate capable of playing to his many strengths. It’s not so simple as giving him a playmaker or a designated shooter, because Horvat seems to play best with other well-rounded talents. With that in mind, the best linemate for the captain is still the Canuck who he’s shown the most chemistry with in the past – Sven Baertschi. Of course, that will require Baertschi to get back up to NHL speed sooner rather than later – but here’s hoping that he gets the chance.
If Baertschi falters, there’s another all-around athlete about to join the roster in Antoine Roussel – and he also developed some genuine chemistry with Horvat last season. Asking Roussel to step off of LTIR and right into a top-six role might be a bridge too far, but it’s something that will no doubt be explored at some point in 2019/20.
Of course, with all that being said the best possible option remains JT Miller – but I think we all prefer him as a part of the Lotto Line.
The winger who has helped Horvat the most is Miller in their limited 5 on 5 time (54 minutes) together. When the two were combined, Horvat gave up less shots against/60 and had more shots for/60, which makes sense given Miller’s offensive ability. I would be open to seeing more of that combination, but breaking up the Lotto line surely hurts. It would be nice to see Horvat excel with other wingers, but that’s a tougher task. Outside of Miller, Virtanen has boosted Horvat’s shots for/60 more than any other forward this year. This wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially if the idea is to get Horvat going a bit more offensively. For what it’s worth, the players with the best 5v5 With or Without you, score-adjusted shot share rates from last season were Goldobin and Roussel. Since I don’t think we’ll be seeing Goldobin anytime soon, here’s hoping that Horvat can hold on long enough until Roussel can spark his play and become a mainstay on the captain’s wing.
JT Miller is the ideal fit. He’s defensively responsible, plays with pace, has fantastic vision, and wins pucks back. The underlying numbers support the duo as Michael has shown. However, I also would not like to split up the Lotto Line and hope Horvat can find consistent play with other wingers. I wonder what Sven Baertschi and Adam Gaudette could do flanking Horvat. The minutes and competition might be too much for Gaudette but I’d be open to giving it a shot. Heralded as a two-way centre in his NCAA days, Gaudette has shown so far this season that he is one of the most efficient forwards at exiting the defensive zone. He does a good job of making sure the puck is cleared by making a simple dump off the glass or using space, when created, to carry it out with control. The chemistry that Gaudette and Baertschi showed during the pre-season looked promising and has been okay in the couple of games they have played together. I also didn’t mind Gaudette’s first stint on Horvat’s wing earlier this season. The other duo I’d like to see when healthy is Virtanen and Roussel.
I do wonder why they keep cycling guys on the Horvat line. You can’t expect an instant spark every time you give him new wingers. What I’d love to see is an extended Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, and eventually Antoine Roussel combo. For now, Sven Baertschi would round out the line until Roussel makes his triumphant return. Jake has proven he can handle a bigger game and I have liked Baertschi’s hustle.
It’s not the greatest line in hockey but there is potential for it to spell the top line if things aren’t going well. Alex Biega isn’t here anymore so I can’t pick him.
There are a number of intriguing combinations for Travis Green to play with, but ultimately I think what’s most important is for Horvat to have a playmaker on his line who can get the puck to him in the dirty areas other players are reluctant to get to, and that he be given a reasonable amount of time to generate chemistry with whoever his linemates turn out to be. Bo Horvat really hasn’t played consistently alongside any winger aside from Tanner Pearson, and for whatever reason that combination just doesn’t seem to be generating offense the way it was last season and earlier this year.
One of the team’s biggest problems insofar as finding linemates for Horvat is that they lack players on the right side who can dish the puck. As a result, he’s often left playing with wingers who don’t compliment his style well. That means the team will likely have to roll with one of J.T Miller or Sven Baertschi alongside Horvat and a rotating cast of RWs unless something changes. Baertschi-Horvat-Pearson is the combination that intrigues me the most, but Green’s reluctance to try it out makes me wonder if either player is comfortable on their off-side. If that’s the case, it may be time to try out different left wingers on the Pettersson line to see if any can generate the type of chemistry we’ve seen from Miller, so that he can drop down to Horvat’s line and give them a more balanced attack.