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Bo Horvat is an elite goalscorer now

This wasn't who Bo Horvat was supposed to be when the Vancouver Canucks drafted him.
Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat celebrates a goal with Vasily Podkolzin

When the Vancouver Canucks drafted Bo Horvat ninth overall in the 2013 draft, the understanding was that they weren’t necessarily getting a dominant offensive player. He didn’t have the more gaudy offensive totals of the players at the top of the draft like Nathan Mackinnon and Sam Reinhart, or even his own London Knights teammate, Max Domi. 

Instead, Horvat was seen as a the consummate two-way player, who would do all the little things you need to win hockey games: battle in the corners, win faceoffs, and kill penalties. Sure, he’d put up some points, but it was his character and leadership that would be the real hallmarks of his game.

At the time of the draft, Horvat was projected as a top-tier third-line centre or, if he did slot into a top-six role, it would be as the grit or sandpaper to make room for more skilled linemates. 

Only, that’s not exactly how it’s turned out. Sure, the character and leadership are there in spades — he was named the team’s 14th captain in franchise history for a reason — and he certainly wins a lot of faceoffs and plays big minutes against tough opponents. But Horvat’s also scoring a whole lot.

On Tuesday night, Horvat scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season, second among NHL forwards this season behind only Connor McDavid, who has 14 goals in 14 games because he's ridiculous. 

That’s some pretty heady company but it goes back further than just this season. Horvat’s goal-scoring spree dates back to March 9 of last season. Since then, Horvat has a whopping 26 goals in 31 games and his 0.84 goals per game leads the entire NHL in that time.

In his last 82 games, Horvat has 43 goals, which would be the best Canucks season since Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi in 2002-03. That’s some elite company and it raises the question: is Bo Horvat an elite goalscorer?

It’s certainly starting to look like it. 

“It kind of feels a little surreal when you say it like that,” said Horvat on CBC’s After Hours on the weekend when he was confronted with his goal-scoring pace. “There’s a lot of great goalscorers in this league…to even be in that category, it feels good. I just try to capitalize on every opportunity I can get.”

He’s been getting a lot of opportunities, particularly on the power play, where opposing penalty kills have learned to respect the danger of his shot from the bumper position in the middle of the ice. But he’s been scoring in every situation and, like most great goalscorers, in multiple different ways: four of his goals this season have come from wristshots and snap shots, three from slap shots, four from tips or deflections, and one from a backhand. 

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Horvat has become a great goalscorer. Right from Junior, he stepped up to score goals in big situations. In his draft year, after a moderately good regular season, Horvat lit up the playoffs with 16 goals in 21 games to lead the OHL playoffs in goals.

In his one playoff appearance as captain of the Canucks, Horvat was a beast, scoring 10 goals in 17 games. By the time the Canucks were eliminated from the playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights, Horvat led the playoffs in goals.

Unfortunately, even as Horvat comes through with goalscoring when the team needs it, it’s not leading to wins. Ever the team player, Horvat wants wins more than anything else.

“If I would have scored four, tie game,” lamented Horvat after a two-goal effort wasn’t enough in a recent game. “So, I’ll try to get four next time.”

Will the goalscoring pace continue? He won't reach 76 goals — his shooting percentage of 25.5% is well above his career average of 13.6%, so he'll surely slow down at some point — but he has a strong chance of being the Canucks' first 40-goal scorer since Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler in the 2010-11 season.

He's certainly off to a strong head start.