Patric Hornqvist did not disappoint in his first season as a Penguin.
After he was acquired from Nashville with Nick Spaling for James Neal at the 2014 NHL Draft, the 28-year-old Swedish native told the media exactly what he planned to do with his new club.
“I’ll bring energy to the team and work as hard as I can every single night and go hard to the net,” Hornqvist said. “I can’t change anything. They know what kind of player they got. Hopefully I can show it and be good for the organization and the team to help them win.
“I have a great opportunity in front of me playing with the two best centermen in the world. I’m not going to change my game. I’ll still go hard to the net and try to score goals around the net.”
Hornqvist is a man of his word, as he did all of that and more.
The gritty winger with a scoring touch thrived here in Pittsburgh, where he spent the entire season in the top-six alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin and had one of the best seasons of his career statistically while becoming an important member of the Pens’ power play – which isn’t easy to do considering the amount of talent on the roster.
And it wasn’t just about the numbers for Hornqvist, as he was a tremendous locker-room presence as well. Hornqvist was always smiling, always bouncing off the walls (sometimes literally) with energy and always getting the boys pumped up. All in all, Hornqvist has turned out to be a tremendous fit for the Penguins.
Despite dealing with the first trade of his career and missing a total of 18 games due to injury, Hornqvist passed the 25-goal and 50-point marks for the third time in seven seasons and, most notably, produced at the highest pace of his career.
That point (no pun intended) is driven home by his .80 average points-per-game total this past season. For comparison, Hornqvist recorded a .60 points-per-game average during his entire time in Nashville from 2008-14.
Hornqvist was among the team leaders in all major offensive categories, as his 25 goals ranked third on the team behind Crosby and Malkin (who both had 28) while his 51 points ranked fourth behind those two and Kris Letang. And Hornqvist only got better as it went along. Despite dealing with an injury down the stretch, Hornqvist still managed to close out the season red-hot – recording 10 goals and 18 points over his final 19 games.
If Hornqvist had been able to stay healthy all season, it’s highly likely he would have surpassed his previous highs of 30 goals and 53 points. The Penguins were certainly a better team with him on the ice, as Hornqvist helped the Penguins post a 37-20-7 record (.633 pct.) when he was in the lineup. During the 18 games he missed, Pittsburgh was just 6-7-5 (.472 pct.).
Hornqvist also proved he wasn’t hesitant to put the puck on net, as he finished second behind Crosby with 220 shots. He was also an important member of the Pens’ power play, becoming a fixture as one of the net-front presences. Hornqvist finished with 3:18 minutes per game on the man-advantage, fourth-most on the team.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
While Hornqvist’s production was impressive, we were expecting to get numbers like that from him as he’d scored at least 20 goals in each of his previous four full seasons before coming to Pittsburgh (though it is truly remarkable how he was able to put up such numbers despite missing so much time). It was more about the way he played that was the most eye-opening thing about Hornqvist.
It’s one thing for Hornqvist to describe his style; it’s another to see him actually skate with that energy, work ethic and compete. He didn’t just work as hard as he could every night – he worked as hard as he could every single shift. Even when the team as a whole was having an off game, you could always point to Hornqvist continuing to leave it all out on the ice. Even if he wasn’t 100 percent.
Hornqvist was dealing with an injury down the stretch, as he missed five straight games in mid-to-late March. But general manager Jim Rutherford said Hornqvist returned sooner than most players would to help his team, as they were fighting for a playoff spot. And despite playing with a broken rib, Hornqvist never stopped playing his gritty style. He continued to drive to the net, where he would always take a beating to make a play. As a result, he finished with two goals and six points in his last eight games after coming back. Rutherford
Hornqvist brought energy off the ice as well. He’s like Marc-Andre Fleury in that he always has a smile on his face and may rival the goaltender for the title of happiest guy in the room. Hornqvist is such a friendly, energetic guy and went out of his way to get to know all of his teammates (most notably Evgeni Malkin. Hornqvist would always playfully steal his seat on the team bus and chat with him on the way to games).
When Rutherford acquired Hornqvist, he described him as a guy who plays the game hard, plays the game with an edge and is a great team guy to have in the room. Hornqvist delivered on all three counts.
Hornqvist finished the season playing on a line with Crosby, and Rutherford confirmed in his season-ending media conference that Hornqvist would continue to play with either him or Malkin next year. “He’s a guy that can help those players,” Rutherford said.
Hornqvist was able to do so much this past season despite getting used to his new team, management, coaches, teammates, systems and surroundings while also dealing with injuries. It’s exciting to think of what Hornqvist can accomplish thisnext season being fully comfortable – and fully healthy, as he will have all summer to recover from his broken rib and get back to 100 percent. It’s no stretch to think that the 2015-16 campaign could be a new career year for Hornqvist.