The New York Islanders pulled off a stunner Monday afternoon, acquiring Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat for Anthony Beauvillier, Aatu Raty and a conditional first-round draft pick.
On pace to score a career-high 52 goals, Horvat provides the Islanders with a much-needed infusion of offence. Despite winning their past two games, the Islanders are 3-7-3 since Jan. 5, averaging 1.69 goals per game over that span. Overall, they rank 25th in actual (2.85) and expected (2.72) goals per game.
New York’s top scorers have disappeared for long stretches. Brock Nelson, who shared the team lead in goals (19) before Horvat’s arrival, has four in his past 20 games. Mathew Barzal went goalless in 10 consecutive games before scoring in the Islanders’ most recent outing.
Horvat, meanwhile, has not gone longer than four games without a goal this season. He thrives in high-traffic areas, scoring 18 of his 31 goals from the inner slot and leading the NHL with 10 deflection goals.
Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello pointed to the team’s miserable power play, which is mired in a 3-for-50 slump and ranks 31st in the league, as a reason for the trade.
Horvat has taken (197) and won (127) more offensive-zone faceoffs on the power play than any other player — a rate of 64.5 per cent. The Islanders have won 54.8 per cent of their offensive-zone faceoffs on the power play, 19th in the league. Forty of Horvat’s faceoff wins have led to shots on net before the puck leaves the zone, the same amount the Islanders have as a team this season.
Horvat should immediately join the Islanders’ top power-play unit with Barzal, Nelson, Anders Lee and Noah Dobson. New York’s top unit in minutes played, which includes those four players and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, has been on the ice for 11 goals in 95:19 of ice time. Horvat has 11 power-play goals on his own.
“There’s no question in my mind that he should help our power play,” Lamoriello told reporters. “That’s what we like the most about Bo’s game — his power-play success and how he knows where to go and where to be at the right time.”
Lamoriello deferred questions about where Horvat will play at even strength to coach Lane Lambert, but it is possible that Barzal could shift to the wing on the top line.
“If you had a choice of having too many wings or too many centres, there’s not even a question of what the answer is,” Lamoriello said. “Centres can always adapt, but wingers can’t adapt to centre ice.”
Barzal is a dynamic playmaker who drives possession at a high level. He leads all forwards with 354 defensive-zone carry-outs and is sixth at the position with 309 offensive-zone carry-ins.
With all due respect to Josh Bailey and Oliver Wahlstrom, Barzal’s most common linemates this season, neither compares to Horvat as an offensive threat. Horvat could help Barzal reach a higher gear.
The Islanders, who are two points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, view Horvat as the type of player who can turn around their season. He will certainly help, but how much is unclear.