Canucks’ Horvat knows what’s ahead for Boeser in sophomore season

The Canucks are entering training camp without Henrik and Daniel Sedin for the first time in two decade, meaning their players will have to step up to replace the Vancouver legends.

WHISTLER, B.C. – Before his second National Hockey League season when so much was expected of him, Bo Horvat not only refused to believe in the sophomore jinx but didn’t even want to discuss it.

Then in the fall of 2015, the Vancouver Canucks centre went 27 games without scoring and felt like he’d never celebrate another goal. Horvat’s epic slump ended a short time after captain Henrik Sedin sidled up to him before a morning skate in Philadelphia and reassured his despondent 20-year-old teammate that he was a good player, had not forgotten how to play, and simply needed to stop pushing so hard and stay positive.

So now Bo knows about the NHL’s sophomore slump, but he hopes linemate Brock Boeser never will.

Horvat reported to training camp this weekend lighter and leaner than last season, his weight of 214 pounds down at least 15 from the heaviest time of his first four NHL seasons. Boeser, however, added about 10 pounds of a muscle and is a bulkier 208 going into his sophomore year.

Will they be strong enough to carry the Canucks attack on their shoulders?

Horvat and Boeser are not NHL superstars. Not yet, at least. But on a low-scoring, rebuilding Canucks team, they carry the superstar’s burden of offensive expectations. And this season, Hank and Danny Sedin, who combined for 105 points last season before they retired, are not around to provide counsel and secondary scoring.

“Honestly, out of these first four years of my career, the second year was when I learned the most,” Horvat said Sunday. “That was a big learning year for me and to go through that adversity early in my career, I think, just made me mentally stronger.”

It may have made him a future captain, too. Horvat scored 14 goals in the second half of 2015-16 to salvage his sophomore season. But it was how he conducted himself in the first half, the character and attitude he displayed, that convinced the Sedins of Horvat’s leadership ability.

“I just tried to do a little bit too much,” Horvat said. “I was trying to be that goal-scorer, trying to be a difference-maker, and I think I was just forcing the issue. Once I sat back and played both ends of the rink, just got my confidence back, then things started to take off.

“Just don’t get too ahead of yourself. That’s the biggest problem. It really humbled me that year. I thought I was going to go into my second year and it was going to be easy after the way I finished my first year. (But) the second year is that much harder because you have to prove to yourself and everybody that you can still do it. I had to perform. It wasn’t an easy year.”

Really, neither was last year. A first-liner for the first time, Horvat had 22 goals and 44 points while missing 18 games due to a fractured ankle. Boeser, his rookie linemate, scored 29 goals and tied Danny Sedin for the team scoring title at 55 points despite missing 20 games, the last 16 of them with a fracture in his lower back.

Even with the injury, Boeser was a Calder Trophy finalist. If he plays the full season this year, anything less than 35 goals will be viewed as a disappointment. He’s 21 years old.

“I think I don’t need to change my game at all,” Boeser said. “I think if I play the way I did last year and come to the rink every day with the same mindset … I think I can have the same season I did last year and hopefully build off that.”

Unlike Horvat three years ago, Boeser didn’t try to deflect questions about a sophomore slump. That’s because he has already experienced one, struggling through a second season at the University of North Dakota two years ago after winning a national championship (and amassing 60 points in 42 games) as a freshman.

“I think back to my second year in college,” Boeser said. “I think that’s why I stayed; I knew it would be harder my second year there. It’s the same thing here. (But) at North Dakota, I think I changed the way I played, just trying to do too much. I need to make sure I come to the rink every day and find ways to improve, but I can’t stray away from the type of game I play.”

It sounds like he learned in college what Horvat did in the NHL: try to do too much and you’ll sink like a flailing man in quicksand.

“It kind of sucks that he has all that pressure on him,” Horvat said. “But at the same time, he’s a pretty level-headed kid. He doesn’t let things faze him too much. He’s confident, but he’s humble about it. He’s not bragging about how he’s going to go out and score 40 goals. He knows he has to work for it.

“A lot of it is mental, how you come in. Some guys, (the sophomore jinx) doesn’t affect them at all. They play on great teams, play with great players, whatever it is. But it is something to be aware of. You have to come in and not take it lightly.”

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