VANCOUVER â€” More than halfway through his third NHL season, Bo Horvat has a pretty good idea of what’s waiting for him after each game.
The Vancouver Canucks centre has a few minutes to decompress before meeting with the media to dissect what just took place, be it good or bad. Then there’s possibly a workout or a meal, but at some point during the familiar routine his cellphone will buzz with a text message.
His father Tim has watched the game â€” three times zones away when the Canucks are at home â€” in Rodney, Ont., and is offering a frank assessment.
“He waits up and gives me his opinion,” Horvat said of his dad’s messages, before adding with a smile: “Sometimes you don’t like it. Sometimes you choose not to respond to it.
“But for the most part it’s positive.”
Tim Horvat likely hasn’t been too disappointed this season with the play of his 21-year-old son, who leads the Canucks in scoring with 15 goals and 18 assists through 52 games.
Bo Horvat, who started the campaign as a surprising member of the fourth line, is now a lynchpin for Vancouver. Many viewed Horvat as a checker with some offensive upside when he was selected ninth overall at the 2013 NHL draft â€” a serviceable player, but not one expected to put up significant points or drive the play.
Horvat had other ideas.
“I’m not satisfied with being a third-line centre, nor should anybody,” he said. “Everybody should push to be better, everybody should push to want more.
“That’s the biggest thing for me, to prove to myself and prove to everybody else I could do it.”
Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins insists he didn’t his put his expectations for Horvat in a box, but there were times earlier this year when he was only seeing around 15 minutes of action a night.
Horvat has since gained a lot more trust â€” he now gets power-play time â€” and there’s no denying his chemistry with linemate Sven Baertschi.
“The one thing you try not to do as a coach is put limits on guys,” said Desjardins. “You don’t put a limit on him and say: ‘Bo’s only capable of this.'”
What impresses Vancouver defenceman Luca Sbisa the most is how much the six-foot, 223-pound Horvat’s skating has improved since he entered the league at 19 in 2014-15.
“I think guys are still underestimating how fast he is,” said Sbisa. “He burns a lot of guys wide. He’s a powerful guy with a big body and silky hands.
“He’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve and it’s been really fun to watch him develop.”
The rise has been so impressive that Horvat was Vancouver’s lone representative at the NHL all-star game, an honour that confirmed once and for all he belongs among the league’s elite.
“It set in that I did deserve to be there,” he said. “I’ve worked hard for it.”
If he keeps it up, Horvat could be the first player not named Henrik or Daniel Sedin to lead the Canucks in scoring since 2006. Part of that comes down to the fact the talented twins are starting to show their age at 36, but both Sedins have said it will be good for the organization when younger players push them for key minutes.
“It has to be earned. It can’t be just given,” said Horvat, who is in the final year of his entry-level contract and set to become a restricted free agent this summer. “That’s something the guys and myself have to try to do â€” try to overtake (the Sedins) and try to push ourselves.”
Like many Canadian kids, Horvat dreamed of lacing up his skates in the NHL. But unlike many youngsters, he went to an extreme before he was even a teenager by leaving Rodney, a small town about 60 kilometres southwest of London, to live with billets in Toronto at the age of 12 in order to play a higher level of minor hockey.
“It was really tough being away from your friends and family,” he said. “But I think it really matured me as a person.”
That maturity helped him last season when Horvat went 27 games without a goal. He never showed a crack during those struggles, at least on the surface, and rebounded in the second half as the Canucks let their youngsters learn on the job, finishing with 13 goals and 17 assists over the final 43 games.
He’s on pace for 52-point campaign in 2016-17 as Vancouver, which has lost three in a row, looks to stay in the Western Conference playoff chase with what could be a season-defining six-game road trip set to begin Tuesday in Nashville.
“(The goal drought) made me the player I am right now,” said Horvat. “I’ve been there, done that with the mental side of it where I had to fight through that adversity. Having that early in my career really helped me and pushed me to be better.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press