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Have the Canucks already found their future first-line centre?

Hint: It might be the guy in the photograph
Is Bo Horvat Vancouver's next top centre?

Canucks fans have been fortunate to witness a string of quality centres pass through the organization in recent years, such as Trevor Linden, Brendan Morrison, Ryan Kesler, and all-time Canuck great, Mats Sundin.

And how could I leave out Kyle "Man Possessed" Wellwood?

We've been particularly spoiled by a certain elite Swedish centre for the last decade, who has won the Art Ross, Hart, and King Clancy trophies, has been named a first-team all star twice, and has proven a lot more durable than my Ikea coffee table (Sawdust. They make them out of sawdust.)

With Henrik Sedin still Sedin-ing, we might be forgiven for not noticing how bare the cupboards are today. But they totally are. Just some saltines. The unsalted kind.

That's not to compare the Canucks’ entire prospect pool with tasteless crackers.

There's Brock Boeser, who, aside from looking exactly like an ‘80s movie bully (named, um, Brock), is tearing up the NCAA with North Dakota.

Olli Juolevi seems like the real deal in London and has a legitimate shot at becoming a top-pairing defenseman.

And don’t forget Thatcher Demko, the Canucks’ best goaltending prospect out of Boston College since their last goaltending prospect out of Boston College.

Still, who do the Canucks have that can anchor a top line? Henrik is looking more and more like an old iPhone running iOS 10, and Jim Benning just traded away centre prospect Jared McCann on the recommendation of special advisor to the GM, Beth Bartkowski.

The Canucks do have several serviceable pivots already. Brandon Sutter has looked great centring Jannik Hansen and Markus Granlund. But who has looked up to the task of someday replacing Henrik? Unless Benning has a major free agent or trade target in mind, someone has to step up.

Who is the heir apparent to Vancouver's first-line centre throne?

I'm not saying it's Bo Horvat... but it's Bo Horvat. Hear me out.

What constitutes a first-line centre? I've heard various interpretations, but typically it comes down to scoring. Staggering insight, right? Will Graham: hockey guru.

Here's how it broke down when comparing the top-scoring centre from each NHL team in 2015-16:

All situations: 41 points (Martin Hanzal) to 85 points (Sidney Crosby)
Power play: 11 points (Mika Zibanejad) to 30 points (Nicklas Backstrom)
Even Strength: 27 points (Martin Hanzal) to 61 points (Sidney Crosby)

Here's the spread just by looking at the top 30 scoring centres overall:

All situations: 55 points (Henrik Sedin) to 85 points (Sidney Crosby)
Power play: 16 points (Alex Galchenyuk) to 30 points (Nicklas Backstrom)
Even Strength: 38 points (Ryan Johansen) to 61 points (Sidney Crosby)

(Stats from NHL.com)

So, 41 points is arguably the most recent threshold to be considered a top C. A mere 0.5 points-per-game pace is borderline first line production. Weird, right?

Horvat, at age 20, scored 40 points, 12 of them on the power play. He's right in that sweet Martin Hanzal territory!

Why I'm Totally Wrong

This is completely flawed analysis. Mea culpa. More cracks in it than Indiana Jones' whip.

Let’s be honest: Martin Hanzal is not a first-line centre. That he was Arizona’s top-scoring centre only confirms that Arizona is starved for scoring down the middle. Scoring a little less than Hanzal isn’t exactly a marquee achievement.

It was apparent to all watching last season that Horvat was in over his head, facing tough assignments in the absence of Sutter. His corsi of 45.81 was well below his contemporaries, partly to do with his frequent defensive zone starts, but partly because he was still just a second-year centre.

Then there's the matter of pedigree. His scoring totals in the OHL don’t indicate a particularly lofty scoring potential. (But then, neither did his foot speed and he fixed that.)

Why I'm Totally Right

It's worth noting that Bo came on in the latter half of the season after being paired with Sven Baertschi, scoring 30 points in his final 43 games.

Horvat has been touted as a defensive specialist since his draft year. A reliable two-way guy with some scoring touch. But could we have painted him into the wrong corner? Do the Canucks brass really know what he's capable of? Does Bo have “You Don’t Know Me” by Michael Bolton playing repeatedly on his iPod?

This guy scored at close to a first line clip at age 20. Since then he's packed on even more muscle and has started the 2016 season with a bang, showcasing speed, strength and creativity with the puck.

So Who Do The Canucks Want Horvat To Be?

Given Bo's rate of production, it's bewildering that Canucks Coach Willie Desjardins decided to start him on the fourth line against Calgary. (Though he did end up playing over 16 minutes that night.)

It's easy to typecast players. For a long time Kesler's "ceiling" was considered to be third-line C. He defied those expectations, and I think Bo may well do the same.

The party line from Desjardins is that young players like Bo should be given limited responsibility and utilize their energy while learning from the vets. It's hard not to worry that Horvat is being shoehorned into a lesser role in order to service this philosophy.

That theory is all but confirmed when we see that the vast majority of Bo’s starts happen in the defensive zone. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, out of 307 forwards who have played more than 50 minutes at even strength, Horvat is ranked 289th in offensive zone starts.

In fact, he has made just 19.2% of his starts in the offensive zone. As a player who is one of Vancouver’s few goal scoring threats, it’s perplexing that he’s being deployed predominantly in a defending role.

Do the Canucks envision him as a primary scorer at all?

Luckily, he is continuing to play too well to ignore. He played the role of hero against St. Louis, tying the game late in the third period, tucking in an Erik Gudbranson rebound with a secondary assist from Baertschi. All indications are that he's going to play a big offensive role this year. And the Canucks don’t really have anyone else who’s up to the task.

So who is Vancouver's next franchise centre? Maybe Bo knows.