When the New York Islanders acquired All-Star center Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks, it was primarily viewed as a move for a scorer. Horvat had 31 goals and 54 points when the trade happened on Jan. 30, with a chance of reaching the 50-goal milestone. However, in his 16 games with the Isles, he's shown that the move was for much more than that.
Horvat was immediately paired with Mathew Barzal in hopes of giving Barzal a linemate that could complement his unique combination of skill and playmaking. There were early signs that the duo would have longevity throughout their Islanders' tenures. Then during the Feb. 18 game against the Boston Bruins, Barzal left the game just 6:01 into the contest after taking a hit from Bruins forward Craig Smith. After originally being declared 'out-indefinitely,' Barzal's injury designation was changed to week-to-week, keeping the door open to a return before the end of the regular season.
With Barzal and center JG Pageau injured, the team start to focus or refocus on their structure, making the smart plays consistently, winning the individual battles, and doing the little things to win hockey games. That's where Horvat has shined during this most recent stretch, demonstrating to those that haven't watched him closely throughout his career that he has the ability to play a two-way game, kill penalties, and of course, win face-offs at an elite clip night after night.
For his career, Horvat has won 53.8% of his face-offs and was 56% with Vancouver this season. That number has gone up even further to 58.9% during his time with the Islanders. His prominence in the face-off dot was expected and needed even more so with Pageau out of the lineup. Yet, it's been his recent contributions to the penalty-kill that show the growth in his overall game.
When he first entered the league, Horvat struggled on the penalty kill, so much so that it took years of steady progress for Vancouver fans to view him as a center deserving of "two-way" billing. However, the penalty kill, like other facets of his game, improved through hard work and maturity. With Pageau and Cal Clutterbuck out, Horvat was asked to log more minutes on the penalty kill and served admirably in their absence, even scoring a short-handed goal in Winnipeg on Feb. 26.
It's easy to compare Horvat's five goals and four assists to the numbers Anthony Beauvillier has put with Vancouver (6G, 7A) since the trade and want to see more goals, but that's unfair without the proper context. The tempered offensive production is clearly due to the loss of Barzal, but it has also given us an early look at the variety of other ways Horvat can help the Islanders win games.