Bo Horvat, New York Islanders

Islanders Horvat Can Become a Dynamic Playmaker This Season

In the Oct. 2nd preseason game against the New Jersey Devils, Mathew Barzal scored two goals and added an assist. He was the bright spot in a 6-5 New York Islanders defeat as he found the back of the net twice and is showing signs that he’s ready to become an elite player. The part of the game that wasn’t discussed was the passes Bo Horvat distributed, most notably, the centering the puck on Barzal’s third-period goal.

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Horvat is a known shooter, and it’s the primary reason for his 208 career goals. He finds open looks on the net in the middle of the offensive zone and takes advantage. There doesn’t appear to be a world where Horvat is a playmaker even though he had more assists (nine) than goals (seven) after he was acquired by the Islanders last season.

Bo Horvat New York Islanders
Bo Horvat, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If he becomes a playmaker, it would drastically change how the Islanders look offensively. Likewise, a shift in Horvat’s play, especially if he becomes a passer, will allow some wing skaters to thrive this season as they will find more scoring opportunities.

Horvat Opens Up The Offense

Leading the top line, Horvat will find open skaters in the offensive zone. He’ll have the puck in the middle of the offensive zone, and defensemen will try to stop him from generating shots on the net. As a result, the wing skaters will have more ice to operate and find shooting lanes.

The Islanders typically have centers that make the players around them better, specifically, by providing them with shots off of quick passes. Barzal was that type of player before he moved to the wing halfway through last season. Brock Nelson is the most well-rounded forward on the team, and his ability to both find the back of the net and find his linemates has made him an All-Star caliber player. Even Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who has declined in recent seasons, is a playmaker first and a goal scorer second. Horvat can join that list and take the playmaking ability to the next level.

Brock Nelson New York Islanders
Brock Nelson, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Along with being a passer, Horvat can allow some of the skaters on his line to have career seasons. A lot of forwards will be allowed to play on the top line, and with a playmaker, they can take advantage and become lethal scorers.

Wahlstrom, Barzal & Wing Skaters Thrive

Oliver Wahlstrom is the player to watch on the forward unit and will be the X-factor for the Islanders throughout the season. He’s playing on a one-year contract and is hoping to prove that he’s worthy of being a regular for the long haul. More importantly, Wahlstrom is one of the few young skaters on a veteran-heavy forward unit and has a higher upside than most players on the roster.

Oliver Wahlstrom New York Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With an accurate shot, and an ability to handle the puck effectively as a passer as well, Wahlstrom is the ideal skater to play on Horvat’s line. He can create scoring chances on the wing, finding skaters in the offensive zone, but if Horvat becomes a passer, his shot will stand out. He scored seven goals in 35 games last season, and playing in a top-six role on the same line as a playmaker, it’s not an understatement to think he’ll have a 20-goal season.

Wahlstrom is an unknown, and it’s unclear what line he’ll play on for most of this season. Meanwhile, Barzal will be on the top line, and Horvat, as a playmaker, will make or break him. The boost it can provide is that it can make him a great scorer and a well-rounded forward. Barzal has a great shot, but he needs to find the shooting lanes and be willing to shoot the puck on the net.

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Barzal and Wahlstrom are the top two skaters who can benefit from Horvat as a passer, but ultimately, anyone on his line would thrive. Anders Lee, the Islanders’ top finisher, would find more scoring chances near the net. Kyle Palmieri and Pierre Engvall, the two forwards slated to play on Nelson’s line, both have great shots and would remain viable scorers on the top line. The power play, which was abysmal last season, scoring on only 15.77 percent of opportunities, would be able to take off.

Islanders Might Lack Shooting Presence

The Islanders’ weakness halfway through last season was the absence of scorers. They acquired Horvat with the hopes that the offense would improve, adding a skater with 31 goals in 49 games with the Vancouver Canucks. At the trade deadline, general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello doubled down, adding Engvall to the roster, another shoot-first player. The Islanders already have passers centering their top three lines but lack a shooting presence heading into this season, and they need Horvat to fill that void.

Pierre Engvall New York Islanders
Pierre Engvall, New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Horvat moving away from his shot and becoming a playmaker won’t help the cause. On the contrary, it can hurt the forward unit and give the Islanders a surplus of skaters with one skill set. The offense hasn’t eclipsed the 3.00 goal-per-game threshold since the 2017-18 season, and it’s in part, because of their inability to take advantage of open shots on the net.

The absence of a scorer was initially felt when John Tavares left in the 2018 offseason, signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then the lack of a scoring presence became a glaring weakness when the Islanders allowed the Seattle Kraken to select Jordan Eberle in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Horvat was brought in with the hopes of fixing that issue, and this season is the one he’ll be asked to do so.

Ideally, It Rounds Out Horvat’s Game

The Islanders know Horvat can score, but if he adds versatility to his play, he’ll be tough to defend. Opponents must respect his shot but also avoid allowing him to make a pass to find a linemate for an easy goal. His scoring ability naturally draws skaters to him and it makes any addition to his arsenal a valuable one for the top line.

The Islanders, as a whole, must add versatility to their offense with the forward unit possessing a lot of skaters with a unique skill set but the inability to adapt. The lack of versatility plagued them in the First Round last season as the Carolina Hurricanes dared the offense to adapt, and it wasn’t capable of doing so, resulting in a playoff defeat in six games. The Islanders adapting will start with their top-line center, something that can make the offense one of the best in the league.

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