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Vancouver Canucks centre Bo Horvat controls the puck ahead of Colorado Avalanche centre Mikhail Grigorenko on Nov. 26, 2016. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)
Vancouver Canucks centre Bo Horvat controls the puck ahead of Colorado Avalanche centre Mikhail Grigorenko on Nov. 26, 2016. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Bo Horvat makes case for leader of post-Sedin era in Vancouver Add to ...

Amid the struggles of the Vancouver Canucks this season, a part of the team’s future has come into focus: There’s a new top scorer.

Bo Horvat, a 21-year-old centre in his third season, leads the Canucks with 15 points, moving ahead of Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin over the past several games.

If Horvat maintains his lead on his 36-year-old teammates, it would mark the first time in a decade that the Canucks’ leading scorer isn’t Daniel or Henrik Sedin.

Life after the Sedins looms large over the Canucks, as the team is once again near the bottom of the NHL standings.

Horvat is the leader of the team’s push to build for the future. He is considered a future captain, and general manager Jim Benning is looking to sign him to a long-term contract.

Horvat’s latest offensive success, which stretches back into last winter, suggests he has the ability to become a first-line centre, which some analysts doubted during the early years of his career.

“I see myself as a top-line player,” said Horvat on Monday after practice in Vancouver.

“I’m trying to work my way up to that.”

Horvat was drafted No. 9 in 2013, the team’s highest pick since the Sedins went second and third in the 1999 draft.

The cost was stiff, however: The Canucks were stuck in a tough situation with two strong goaltenders, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.

Luongo’s hefty contract was difficult to move, so Schneider was traded to New Jersey on draft day for the pick.

Schneider has since posted the third-best save percentage of all goaltenders. So Horvat’s emergence as a potential top-line centre makes the trade look better than it once did.

But it’s still early. Horvat’s 15 points – seven goals and eight assists – have him tied for 61st in the NHL. At his current pace, he will approach 60 points by the end of the season. It would be a solid gain from his second season, when he notched 40 points – 16 goals and 24 assists.

Linemate Alex Burrows, who played with the Sedins during their top-scoring seasons, noted the six-foot, 223-pound Horvat has significant speed and size.

“His will to win, his will to get better, is really up there,” Burrows said. “You can’t really teach that. He’s just got it in him.”

How Horvat is deployed will be something to watch. The team is third-last in goals scored, but coach Willie Desjardins sees defence as Horvat’s top attribute. Still, Desjardins is deploying Horvat in more offensive situations. Last season, he shouldered many more defensive zone starts in the absence of injured centre Brandon Sutter. This year, Horvat’s zone starts are about even.

“I’ve always been impressed with Bo,” Desjardins said. “He wants to make things happen. He’s a really solid two-way player.”

Horvat says his offensive production is underpinned by a strong defensive game. And he has a hot touch right now, scoring on more than 20 per cent of his shots. That’s likely to cool down somewhat, but he has posted a double-digit shooting percentage throughout his young career – 14 per cent as a rookie and 10.3 last season.

Leading the Canucks in scoring wasn’t really foreseeable just a few years ago. He was 40th in the Ontario Hockey League in his draft year and 27th the season after. “It’s pretty crazy,” Horvat said of his current standing. “Obviously your dream is to be a top player in the NHL and be a top player on your team. Doing that right now definitely gives me a lot of confidence.”

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