Bo Horvat hated playing against Josh Leivo in the OHL.
Jay Beagle hated being sidelined for 24 games in the NHL.
These are positive developments because the struggling Vancouver Canucks believe they got better on-and-off the ice Monday. The acquisition of Leivo from the Toronto Maple Leafs for minor-league forward Michael Carcone could provide Horvat with a new winger.
And the return of Beagle from a fractured forearm on Oct. 13 should prop up the plummeting penalty kill, give Horvat a break from carrying the defensive-zone faceoff load and help an impressionable transitioning team get out of a 1-9-2 funk.
Leivo, 25, got lost in the Leafs’ riches and his six points (4-2) in 27 games this season — and 28 (14-14) in 84 career NHL games — don’t tell the real story, according to Horvat. The 6-foot-2, 192 pound Innisfil, Ont., native had a 73-point (32-41) season with the Sudbury Wolves and often found himself in a matchup against Horvat and the London Knights.
“He was one of their better players, really tough on pucks and hard to play against,” recalled Horvat. “It was my job to try and shut him down and he made it tough on me every night. He’s got a good shot and is a real smart player at both ends of the rink.
“If I get the opportunity to play with him, maybe it’s two OHLers who can read off each other a little bit and hopefully get some chemistry right away and make something happen out there.”
That would be a boon to Horvat. The first-line centre is leading the club in scoring with 25 points (12-13), is averaging a whopping 20:53 of average ice time and has not only taken the most faceoffs in the NHL (738), his 54.7 faceoff proficiency is also a career high. And he has done all this with a revolving cast of wingers, including Brendan Leipsic, who was claimed off waivers Monday by the Los Angeles Kings.
Imagine if he actually had set linemates?
“The more you play with somebody, the more you’re going to get used to their habits, but it’s tough right now with all the injuries and to see who is going to fit where and what sticks,” he stressed. “But to have guys playing on your line every day — lately Gags (Sam Gagner) and I have been playing well — we’ll just see what happens.”
Leivo had been on the Canucks’ radar because they saw potential in the 2011 third-round pick. He had 48- and 32-point AHL seasons with the Marlies and would have caught the eye of coach Travis Green, who was guiding the Utica Comets.
“I’m not going to say he’s going to go right on the power play or on Bo’s wing,” said Green. “It’s a trade we’re excited about, but I don’t want expectations to be too high for a guy who got traded for the first time.”
Beagle took a Mike Hoffman shot off his forearm and required surgery to mend the fracture. He has been medically cleared to face the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday and his insertion — and the arrival of Leivo — will necessitate a roster move.
It will also allow Beagle to get back into a faceoff and penalty-kill rhythm. In his five games this season a 46-per-cent success rate in the circle pales to his previous seven seasons with Washington — 58.5, 56.4, 56.5, 51.6, 56.1, 57.7 and 55.2 — and the forearm fracture could test his effectiveness to help the Canucks improve on their 26th ranking at 48 per cent.
“There a lot of things with faceoffs — strength, timing — and it’s something where you’ve got to get into the game,” said Beagle. “You can practise all you want, but everything is strong and I feel good and that’s encouraging.”
So is the fact that Beagle brings intangibles.
A four-year, US$12 million commitment from the Canucks is about an on-ice presence and ability to help impressionable young players deal with losing streaks and what it takes to excel. A Stanley Cup championship last season with the Capitals gives him instant credibility on the bench and in the room.
“The one way is to have your presence felt,” said Beagle. “It’s little things and details in every situation so that you’re winning those battles. It really comes down to compete and that’s not the problem.”
The problem has been making crucial mistakes at the wrong time. Whether it’s turning over pucks on the breakout to giving up the winning goal or not reading the flow of the game to know when to get off the ice, veterans can be as important as the coach. That’s where Beagle checks a lot of boxes.
“We had a couple of shifts (Saturday) where a couple of our young guys got caught out at the 40-second mark when it turned into a three-line game and we could have changed,” recalled Green “You go through it and you learn and then you’re not defending 1:20 into your shift.
“It’s those little things that older guys understand.”
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