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Hornqvist proves draft position doesn't matter much

by Brian Hunter /
Some players might take being the last pick of the draft as a slight, a motivating factor to go out and prove that the 29 teams that repeatedly passed him over were wrong.

Patric Hornqvist never had a chip on his shoulder, however. For the Nashville Predators forward, a product of Sollentuna, Sweden, it wasn't about where he was taken; instead, it was the realization of a lifelong dream.

"I was just so happy to get drafted and have a chance to make it to the NHL," Hornqvist, the 230th and final selection in the 2005 Entry Draft, told "Every time you play in the streets as a kid, you're dreaming of playing in the NHL. I was just happy to get the chance."

While the 23-year-old may not be looking to tell anyone "I told you so," there are plenty of teams in the League who would love to have a player of his ability in their lineup heading into the 2010-11 season.

"I was just so happy to get drafted and have a chance to make it to the NHL. Every time you play in the streets as a kid, you're dreaming of playing in the NHL. I was just happy to get the chance."
-- Patric Hornqvist

After making his NHL debut in 2008-09 with a 28-game stint in which he scored 2 goals and had 7 points, Hornqvist emerged as a bona fide star in the making last season. He reached the 30-goal plateau, leading the Predators in that category, and tied veteran Steve Sullivan for the team scoring lead with 51 points.

Hornqvist was quick to credit his teammates for his significant leap in production, though he also noted that once he got rolling the offense just seemed to keep coming.

"The biggest thing is I played with lots of good players," he said. "Sully (Sullivan) is such a good passer, and then when you start to get confidence you don't think too much. I would go to the hard areas and the puck would be there. I just go hard to the net and with a lot of confidence, and when you are playing with confidence it's easier to be productive."

Nashville benefitted on the ice from Hornqvist's breakout season, returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a one-year absence -- and over the summer, Hornqvist reaped his own rewards as a restricted free agent. The Predators signed him to a three-year, $9.25-million contract, and GM David Poile told he is an important building block to what the team hopes to achieve in the future.

"We're a pretty young team and our nucleus is mostly homegrown, Predators' draft choices," Poile said. "Philosophically we like to do things that way, and signing Pat fits in. He had a great year, he scored 30 goals, and we do feel it's realistic that by signing him for three years, we'll get what we paid for. I think he will be a goal scorer, and if he doesn't get 30 again it won't be for a lack of trying. He's an improving player with a passion to play the same way every night."

Poile took his praise a step further in comparing Hornqvist to a fellow Swede from one of Nashville's division rivals who's been recognized for years as one of the best in the League at what he does.

"Patric is hard to play against. He makes contact, he's a nuisance. We see him in the same mold as a Tomas Holmstrom," Poile said, referencing the four-time Stanley Cup champion from the Detroit Red Wings. "He gets to the front of the net and makes it hard for the goalie to see the puck. He'll score some nice goals, but he also scores some ugly goals -- tip-ins and the like."

"That's a good compliment," Hornqvist said of the comparison to his fellow countryman. "I try to play in front of the net and go to the front of the net every game. It's how I will be successful and hopefully that continues this year."

What can Hornqvist do as an encore after scoring 30 goals in his first full NHL season? He's not worrying about specific numbers, but rather continuing to play the style of game that led to his success in the first place.

"I definitely know who I am and I want to do exactly the same things," he said. "I don't know if I'll end up with 15 goals, 30 goals, whatever. I just want to do the same things."

Sticking with what has gotten results also applied to his offseason training in Finland, where Hornqvist has spent recent years practicing with the coach of a speed-skating team, working at improving his skating and balance, as well as getting stronger on the ice.

That willingness to work as hard off the ice as he does on it hasn't gone unnoticed by Nashville management or Hornqvist's teammates, who believe the sky remains the limit for the talented forward.

"Hornie, I can see him just getting better every day," defenseman and new team captain Shea Weber told "Just his mindset, he's a competitive kid and he's always trying to get better. He's going to have a big year for us. He was our best player last year. He was our go-to guy, so he's got to be that same guy again this year, and I don't have any doubts about that."

Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of Hornqvist's season was its finish. An upper-body injury caused him to miss four of the six games Nashville played in a first-round playoff loss to Chicago -- including the pivotal Game 5, when the Blackhawks rallied in stunning fashion to take a 3-2 series lead.

"We know how close we were to a seventh game in Chicago. Game 5 we were up one goal, they get a five-minute penalty and then tie it up on the (penalty kill) and score in overtime," Hornqvist said, the memory still fresh in his mind of Marian Hossa coming out of the box after serving a major for boarding to net the winner.

"We know how close we were, but in the end it is good for us because we know we can beat every team if we can just play a little more focused every second of every game."

With a new contract in hand and no shortage of peace of mind or confidence, Hornqvist appears locked in and ready to achieve great things with the Predators.

"I know I'm in Nashville three more years and we have a great group of young guys," he said. "If we can get this together, I know we have a great chance."
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