The Vancouver Canucks had a decision to make this offseason.
With the retirement of Henrik Sedin, there was a vacancy for team captain and only one realistic candidate.
But instead of handing the C to Bo Horvat, Canucks management chose patience.
They decided to go without a captain in order to not pile unnecessary pressure on Horvat, who at age 23 had never worn an A on his jersey.
The move made sense.
While Horvat was probably ready for the job, there wasn’t much to be gained by anointing him right away — particularly in a year where the team was expected to do a lot of losing.
As one of four alternate captains on the Canucks this season, Horvat is transitioning into the team’s unquestioned leader. He’s doing it with minimal pressure, and he’s thriving with 15 goals and 14 assists in 34 games.
An example of that was on display Thursday against the Nashville Predators.
With the Canucks down 3-1 late in the third period, Horvat was crosschecked into the boards by Preds defenceman Roman Josi. Jake Virtanen came to the defence of the team’s future captain, standing up for his teammate.
Showing poise and intelligence, Horvat pulled Virtanen away from the scrum, knowing that his team had an important power play upcoming.
It turned out to be the right call. Brock Boeser blasted the puck by Pekka Rinne on the ensuing power play to cut the lead in half.
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) December 14, 2018
Then, with the Canucks shorthanded and the goalie pulled for a five-on-five attack, it was Horvat who scored the clutch tying goal with 44 seconds remaining in the third period.
I mean, just stitch the C on his sweater right now.
Horvat led forwards on both teams in ice time with a whopping 24:02 of action, which has been par for the course this season. Nobody has played more on the Canucks this season than Horvat, and only one forward in the entire league (Anze Kopitar) has seen more ice.
Much of that had to do with the need for his faceoff prowess while Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle were out with injuries. Taking 861 faceoffs already, no player in the NHL is within 100 draws of him.
Regularly playing over 20 minutes a night, Horvat’s TOI numbers resemble what you normally only see from a defenceman.
In his fifth NHL season, Horvat has taken a huge step forward.
Horvat is on pace for 36 goals and 70 points this season, which would easily surpass his career highs. He’s been doing it with a rotating cast of characters on his wing, and without Boeser for the most part.
He’s doing it in all situations, trailing only Pettersson in even strength points (18) and power play points (8), while leading all Canucks players in shorthanded points (3).
One of three Canucks players on the NHL All-Star ballot this year, Pettersson is a lock to represent Vancouver, but you can make a case that Horvat should join him.
Horvat isn’t a perfect player yet, but he’s come into his own as a force to be reckoned with.
If there was any shred of doubt that he’d be the next Canucks captain, that’s gone now.
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