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Behind The Numbers

Bo Horvat key to Canucks' future

All-Star forward contributes to scoring, special teams, faceoffs, shootouts

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

There's a passing of the torch on the Vancouver Canucks, who will be represented at the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game by Bo Horvat instead of Daniel Sedin or Henrik Sedin.

Tremendous speed, versatility and persistence are among the attributes that have helped Horvat lead the Canucks in scoring with 30 points in 46 games and establish an identity as their strongest two-way center since Ryan Kesler.

In the 10 seasons since Markus Naslund led the Canucks in 2005-06 with 79 points, either Daniel Sedin or Henrik Sedin has led the Canucks in scoring. That streak could come to an end this season.

It's noteworthy how quickly in his NHL career that Horvat has achieved this level of offensive success. His 30 points are tied with Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche for eighth among NHL players age 21 or younger, and the Canucks haven't seen this dominant an offensive force at such a young age in 25 years, which includes the Sedins.

Video: VAN@CGY: Horvat skates around net and wrists puck in

At age 20 last season, Horvat had 40 points in 82 games, which exceeded the scoring totals of Daniel and Henrik at that age; in 2000-01, Daniel had 34 points, Henrik had 29. The last Canucks player age 20 or younger with more than 40 points in a season was Pavel Bure (60 points in 65 games in 1991-92).

At age 21 in 2001-02, Daniel had 32 points and Henrik had 36. This season, Horvat is on pace for 53 points. The last time a Vancouver player age 21 or younger had 54 points in a season was in 1992-93, when Bure had 110 and Petr Nedved had 71.

When comparing these scoring totals to Horvat's, it's important to note how much easier scoring was in the earlier era: There was an average of more than 7.0 goals per game in the early 1990s, compared to 5.5 goals per game this season.

It's also worth noting that Horvat can contribute scoring while killing penalties and centering a line with significant defensive responsibilities.

As a rookie in 2014-15, Horvat played on a depth line with Jannik Hansen on one wing and either Derek Dorsett or Ronalds Kenins on the other. An injury to center Brandon Sutter resulted in a promotion for Horvat to the second line behind the Sedins in 2015-16. The results of this challenge were mixed, and Horvat finished minus-30, tied for second-worst in the NHL (Mikkel Boedker was minus-33 with the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche).

When placed in the proper context, Horvat's poor numbers may have been a reflection of the tough minutes he was assigned. He was skating with equally inexperienced players (Sven Baertschi, who to that point had played 69 NHL games), and was tasked with taking on top opponents in defensive-zone situations.

At even strength, Horvat started 315 shifts in the offensive zone and 431 in the defensive zone, for a zone-start percentage of 42.23 percent that was second-lowest among Canucks forwards to play at least 20 games, ahead of Brendan Gaunce (41.35 percent). By comparison, Henrik Sedin was at 59.46 percent and Daniel Sedin was at 58.83 percent.

Horvat also led Canucks forwards with an average of 2:15 of shorthanded ice time per game.

Video: CGY@VAN: Horvat feeds Granlund for PPG late in 2nd

Horvat's struggles last season apparently did nothing to shake the confidence of coach Willie Desjardins, who has continued to trust him in a critical two-way role, even with Sutter's return. Centering the second line with Baertschi and veteran Alexandre Burrows on his wings, Horvat continues to take on top opponents and has a zone-start percentage of 46.61 percent.

In what is becoming one of Horvat's defining characteristics, he is finding ways to contribute wherever he can, whether it's in the faceoff circle, killing penalties or in the shootout.

Horvat has won 53.4 percent of his faceoffs this season, boosting his NHL average to 51.7 percent, which is the highest of any player younger than 23 during the past three seasons combined (minimum 1,000 faceoffs).

Horvat has scored two shorthanded goals while continuing to lead Canucks forwards with an average shorthanded ice time per game (1:50), has scored the deciding goal in two of Vancouver's four shootout victories, and has earned eight first, second, or third game stars, which is three more than any other Vancouver skater.

Vancouver's success into the future depends on finding and developing players who can start to share the load the Sedins have carried for so many seasons. In this sense, Horvat is the Canucks' key source of optimism.

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