Interesting story about Bo Horvat. He’s from Rodney, Ont., which is about 50 miles southwest of London, but he spent some of his most formative hockey years in Toronto.
Well, not really Toronto. When he was an atom in 2005-06, Horvat and another player from Sarnia would drive to Toronto every weekend to play for the Toronto Red Wings of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. The player’s father would drive from Sarnia, pick Horvat up along the way and they’d spend the weekend in a hotel room for $89 a night.
They’d play a game Friday night, practice with the Red Wings on Saturday and play another game Sunday afternoon before heading back home. On Wednesday nights, Horvat’s father, Tim, would get off his shift on the assembly line at Ford and drive to Sarnia, where his son and his teammate would be put through their paces with their fathers, at a cost of $125 an hour.
Judging by the player Horvat has become, they must have worked an awful lot on faceoffs. The younger Horvat played his ninth game for the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night, which means the team has burned a year on his entry-level contract. Earlier that day, Horvat found out from the coaching staff that he’ll be in Vancouver to stay. And the fact that Horvat’s line starts out with the puck the majority of the time when he takes the faceoff had to be one of the determining factors.
After winning seven of eight faceoffs in the Canucks 2-0 win over the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night, Horvat has won 62 of the 99 draws he’s taken this season. If he remains healthy and in the lineup, that would put Horvat on pace to take about 750 draws this season. And if he takes that many draws and stays as consistently good as he has been, Horvat will make a mark as one of the best faceoff men – not among rookies, among the entire league – since the league started keeping faceoff statistics in 1997-98.
Among players who have taken 700 or more faceoffs in a season, only Joe Nieuwendyk and Yanic Perreault have won more than the 62.7 percent Horvat is currently winning. Nieuwendyk won 63.2 percent of his draws in 1998-99 and Perreault won 62.9 percent in 2002-03 and 65.2 the next season.
Horvat is taking the majority of those draws against third- and fourth-line centers, but it is still impressive that a 19-year-old out of junior hockey could experience that kind of mastery in the faceoff circle. And with his only three assists of the season coming on Jannik Hansen’s hat trick in a 4-1 win over Chicago Sunday night, the offense is starting to come.
There still seems to be some speculation that Horvat could be made available to Canada for the World Junior Championship, but not if he keeps playing like this. The Canucks would only send Horvat to the WJC if they thought it would be better for his development. And there’s little doubt it wouldn’t hurt, but could his development as a player possibly be harmed by having him practicing with and playing against the best players in the world and winning the majority of his faceoffs?
If Horvat were struggling to play at this level, that would be one thing. Playing and excelling against your peers on the world level would be a huge confidence booster for a player who is facing a steep learning curve at the NHL level. But Horvat continues to get better in the NHL and the Canucks, with their depth at center – Henrik Sedin, Nick Bonino and Brad Richardson – have done a very good job of putting him in situations where the chances for success are higher.
If Horvat’s play or an injury to one of those players ahead of him moves him up the depth chart, then his faceoff numbers might suffer because he’d be going against bigger, more talented players. And there’s always the possibility Horvat will wear down as the schedule progresses and the Western Conference teams lock things down even more during the home stretch.
But there’s nothing to suggest Horvat doesn’t belong in the NHL right now. That’s bad news for Team Canada and other third- and fourth-line centers around the league.