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How will the Canucks replace Bo Horvat’s scoring?

Last season, the Canucks had four 30-goalscorers for the first time in thirty years but lost one of them to a trade.
Former Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat celebrates a goal with Vasily Podkolzin

The Vancouver Canucks had four 30-goal scorers last season for the first time in thirty years.

The last time the Canucks had four players score at least 30 goals was in the 1992-93 season, when Pavel Bure, Petr Nedved, Trevor Linden, and Geoff Courtnall all reached the 30-goal milestone, led by Bure’s 60 goals.

Things went awry between Nedved and the Canucks after that season ended, however. A contract dispute led to Nedved holding out to start the 1993-94 season, eventually signing an offer sheet with the St. Louis Blues that forced a trade, bringing back defencemen Jeff Brown and Bret Hedican and forward Nathan Lafayette.

Despite losing their second-leading goal scorer heading into the 1993-94 season, the Canucks did pretty well for themselves, getting within one game of the Stanley Cup.

This past season, the Canucks got 30+ goals from Elias Pettersson, Andrei Kuzmenko, J.T. Miller, and Bo Horvat. Just like the last time they had four 30-goal scorers, the Canucks had to trade one of their top goalscorers, Horvat, albeit not because of a contract dispute — unless you call not being able to re-sign a player because of the salary cap a “dispute.”

There’s another similarity. Like Nedved, Horvat had 38 goals between the Canucks and the New York Islanders. Canucks fans would certainly like the similarities to keep going, with the Canucks making their way to the 2024 Stanley Cup Final.

Of course, the 2022-23 Canucks aren’t exactly a carbon copy of the 1992-93 Canucks, who won the Smythe Division with 46 wins and made it to the second round of the playoffs, but they have that one thing in common — a top goalscorer who didn’t return for the following season.

Horvat played a key offensive role for Canucks

Between Pius Suter and Teddy Blueger, the Canucks should be able to replace or even improve upon Horvat's defensive contributions as a centre. But what are the Canucks going to do about Horvat’s missing offence?

Obviously, Pettersson is going to score and has the potential to put up 40+ goals next season. Miller likely has another 30-goal season in him. Kuzmenko might not score 39 goals when his shooting percentage regresses, but 30 goals seems reasonable, as long as he’s riding shotgun on Pettersson’s wing.

But Horvat’s offence is still not a trivial thing to lose.

Since his second season in the NHL, Horvat has been a consistent 20-goal scorer, only failing to reach that mark in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season when he still scored 19 goals in 56 games. In the 2021-22 season, Horvat cracked the 30-goal barrier for the first time, then exploded last season with 31 goals in just 49 games before he was traded to the Islanders.

Most importantly, Horvat was a key element of the Canucks’ power play. A significant portion of the Canucks’ offence was directed towards getting shots and tips from the bumper in the slot, where Horvat made his living. It’s not an easy role to play, requiring a lot of awareness and subtle movements to get open for shots and to fight off checks to get sticks on pucks.

The key to the Canucks’ power play success over the past couple of seasons has been threats from multiple areas of the ice — Pettersson’s one-timer from the right, Miller’s wristshot from the left, Boeser or Kuzmenko at the backdoor — and Horvat’s threat from the middle of the ice was a major part of that, helping to open up opportunities elsewhere on the ice.

Finding someone to replace Horvat in the bumper is going to be vital for the Canucks this coming season.

The 1993-94 Canucks, took a major step back in the regular season with the loss of Nedved. They went from 346 goals in 1992-93 to 279 goals in 1993-94 and from 101 points to 85 points. They could weather that kind of offensive drop-off because they were already a good team and the additions from the trade with the Blues propelled them to a long playoff run.

The current Canucks, however, can’t afford any sort of drop-off. In fact, they need to get better to have any hope of even making the playoffs. Some of that improvement will hopefully come defensively as a result of the overhauled defence corps but that doesn’t mean they can afford to take a step back offensively.

So, where might some of that offence come from to replace Horvat? Let’s take a look at a few options.

1 | A healthy Ilya Mikheyev

The season before he came to Vancouver, Mikheyev scored at a 30+ goal pace for the Toronto Maple Leafs, putting up 21 goals in 53 games. Hindered by a torn ACL with the Canucks, he still managed 13 goals in 46 games — a 23-goal pace over a full season.

If healthy, Mikheyev has the potential to score 30 goals, particularly if he plays with Pettersson and Kuzmenko. He might even be an option to play on the first power play unit in Horvat’s vacated spot in the bumper.

The only problem is that the phrase “if healthy” is doing an awful lot of heaving lifting.

Mikheyev is coming off a significant surgery and it’s unclear if he’ll even be ready to start training camp. Even when he does return, it remains to be seen if he’ll still have the blazing speed that is such a key component of his game.

Mikheyev’s NHL career has been riddled with injuries. He has yet to play more than 54 games in a season, though, to be fair, that 54-game season was in the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season.

If he’s healthy, Mikheyev could play a big role in making up for Horvat’s lost offence, but it might not be reasonable to expect him to remain healthy all season.

2 | Brock Boeser finally breaches 30 goals

Surely, this is the season Boeser scores 30 goals. Right?

Last season, Boeser authoritatively declared, “This is the year” he would score 30 goals, only to finish with a mere 18. It was a far cry from the promise he showed when he entered the league and it seemed like a 40-goal season was inevitable.  

But maybe, just maybe, he can finally reach the 30-goal mark this season. He’ll need to avoid injuries, like the freak hand injury that derailed his game to start last season, and find a rhythm with J.T. Miller on the second line. 

He’ll also need to stick on the first power play unit, which is easier said than done, even with Horvat gone. It might seem natural to stick Boeser in Horvat’s sport in the bumper to make use of his shot but Boeser is a right-hand shot — the wrong hand to take advantage of Miller’s slip passes into the slot from the left side.

That means the power play would need to run through Pettersson on the right side a lot more to make use of Boeser in the bumper. That’s a possibility but it would be a major change.

But maybe major change is what the Canucks need. If Boeser does finally break out as the high-end goal scorer he once promised to be, that would go a long way towards addressing the issue of Horvat’s lost goals.

3 | Anthony Beauvillier finds a home in the top-six

Anthony Beauvillier was an elite goalscorer in junior hockey, with 40 goals in 47 games in the QMJHL in his draft year. Some of that offence has translated to the NHL — he has 111 goals in 490 games so far in his career — but he hasn’t yet broken out as a top-tier top-six winger. 

But maybe this is the year.

There’s an opportunity for Beauvillier to solidify a spot in the Canucks’ top-six, either on Miller’s wing on the second line or Pettersson’s wing on the first line, especially if Mikheyev isn’t ready to start the season. 

Beauvillier thrived in his stint with the Canucks after the Horvat trade, putting up 9 goals and 20 points in 33 games, and he was particularly effective on a line Pettersson and Kuzmenko. He even got an opportunity on the top power play unit in the bumper, so that spot might be open for him as well.

It might be too much to expect 30 goals from Beauvillier, but 20-25 goals would help pick up some of the slack left by Horvat.

4 | A breakout season for Nils Höglander and/or Vasily Podkolzin

The Canucks have a lot of competition on the wing, especially with Tanner Pearson seemingly ready to make his return from multiple hand surgeries. 

That leaves little opportunity for young wingers Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin to play in the Canucks’ top-six and they’re more likely to wind up on the fourth line or, in Podkolzin’s case because he’s still exempt from waivers, in the AHL.

What the Canucks need is for one or both of Höglander and Podkolzin to force their way into the top-six with the strength of their play, leaving the coaching staff with no choice but to move them up the lineup.

Both Höglander and Podkolzin have shown flashes of offensive potential but the Canucks need those flashes to become a constant hi-beam from a lifted truck with xenon headlights. 

Getting more offensive contributions from the team’s younger forwards would definitely help offset the loss of Horvat. 

5 | Elias Pettersson goes off

Maybe the Canucks don’t really need the likes of Mikheyev, Beauvillier, Boeser, Höglander, and Podkolzin to step up. Maybe Pettersson can do it all himself.

Here’s the crazy thing about Pettersson’s 39-goal, 102-point season: he had just six power play goals and had a career-low 15.18% shooting percentage.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see where a big bump in goals could come from. With Horvat gone, more of the offence on the power play will need to run through Pettersson, potentially giving him a big bump in power play goals. Combine that with a shooting percentage bender and maybe we shouldn’t be expected 40 goals from Pettersson next season but 50 or, dare I say it, 60?

Could Pettersson be the second Canuck in franchise history to score 60 goals after Pavel Bure? 

It sounds outrageous but two players scored 60+ goals last season. If Connor McDavid and Davis Pastrnak can do it, why not Elias Pettersson?

Oh right. He doesn’t have “David” in his name. Never mind.

6 | All of the above

The best hope for the Canucks to make up for the loss of Horvat's offence is scoring by committee, plus a little star power from Pettersson.

Expecting one player to make the jump to 30 goals next season is a little much, but if Mikheyev can score while he's healthy, Boeser can bounce back and pop in a few more goals, Beauvillier contributes from whatever line he lands on, one of Höglander or Podkolzin sticks in the lineup to provide tertiary scoring, and Pettersson can reach 40 goals — well, that seems a lot more reasonable.

Combine that with some improved defensive play and the Canucks just might have what it takes to get back to the playoffs and potentially provide a thirty-year echo of the 1993-94 Canucks. 

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