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Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat sat down with XN Sports writer Sean Hartnett to chat about his rookie season, being part of a new era under first-year head coach Willie Desjardins and the new-look Canucks.
Bo knows hockey. No, we’re not talking about those memorable Bo Jackson Nike ads of the late 1980’s and early 90’s. We’re talking about 19-year-old center Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks.
Just 45 games into his rookie season, Horvat is giving Canucks fans plenty to be excited about. There’s a lot to like about this kid. Even though Horvat is still a teenager, he has a strong understanding of positional sense. He plays hard at all times, covering every inch of ice. He loves getting to the dirty areas and has a nose for the net.
The Rodney, Ont. native has caught fire of late. Horvat has recorded six points (four goals, two assists) in seven games. The former ninth overall draft pick has collected six goals and four assists for 10 points over his past 13 games.
“I knew the points would come,” Horvat said. “At first, the points weren’t coming. I was focusing more on the defensive side of my game. Once I kind of figured that out, I stuck with my program and played the 200-foot game like I know how to play. Eventually, the points would come – and they’ve started coming for me. I think it’s been going well so far.”
Prior to taking over behind the Canucks’ bench, 57-year-old Willie Desjardins led the Texas Stars to their first Calder Cup Championship. Even though this is Desjardins’ first NHL head coaching gig, he’s earned the full respect of the dressing room. Desjardins has cultivated an atmosphere of open communication. He’s always seeking feedback from players.
“Willie has been unbelievable,” Horvat said. “Everybody respects him as a coach and he respects the players. He’s always asking us what we think and what we can do better. He’s really created an identity for this team and we’ve followed that.”
When Desjardins speaks, Horvat soaks up his advice.
“He’s been giving me great feedback on the things I have to keep working on and getting better at,” Horvat said. “There’s no such thing as a perfect player. Everyone has their flaws and things they have to work on. For me, there’s still things I have to work on. Willie’s done a great job point those things out.”
Throughout his youth, Horvat often studied the game of Mike Richards. Long before Richards lifted two Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings, Horvat would watch Richards closely during his OHL days as a member of the Kitchner Rangers.
“Mike Richards was one of my favorite players growing up,” Horvat said. “I watched him all the time when he was with the Kitchner Rangers. He was a good two-way guy to watch. Since coming into the league, I’ve grown into a huge Jonathan Toews fan as well. You want to emulate the guys who lead and play a strong two-way game.”
There’s plenty of professional examples inside the Canucks’ dressing room for Horvat to study as well. Everyone knows about the mature example of the Sedin twins. A new face in the room is Radim Vrbata. Horvat has been immediately impressed by Vrbata’s all-around contributions.
“He’s been huge for us,” Horvat said of Vrbata. “He scores big goals and puts up points, but he also does all the little things too. He gets in on the forecheck, he backchecks, he plays really well defensively. He’s been a real key guy for us. Radim, the Sedins… all the best guys on this team go hard in practice.”
The Canucks’ roster underwent a major overhaul in the offseason. Big names like Vrbata, Ryan Miller and Nick Bonino were added to the mix. To be a successful team, you also need glue guys. The Canucks made a shrewd move by dealing away a third-round pick to land former New York Ranger Derek Dorsett just prior to the 2014 draft.
Horvat recognizes Dorsett’s ability to transform from a fun guy to all-business once the puck drops. Just as he did last year for the Rangers, Dorsett is making a big impact in his first season in Vancouver.
“Dorse one of the guys who keeps the room loose,” Horvat said. “When the game starts, he takes things very serious. He’s the type of guy you want on your team, but hate to play against. He sucks guys into taking penalties and creates open ice for all our skilled guys. He’s well-respected in here. Everyone respects Dorse as a person and as a player. He works hard for us on and off the ice. He’s been unbelievable for us this year.”
Desjardins’ new-look Canucks have surpassed the expectations of many. They currently sit in second-place in the Pacific Division above two powerhouse teams in the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks.
The Sedins, Vrbata and Dorsett carved out their reputations in the league a long time ago. At 19, Horvat is just getting started. He’s given Canucks fans a taste of his exciting potential.