The 2014 NHL Draft brought many surprises, and one was the Pittsburgh Penguins trading high-powered winger James Neal to the Nashville Predators for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
At first glance, one would assume the Predators got away with highway robbery. That’s just not the case though.
Neal was integral part to Pittsburgh’s success – there’s no doubt about that. However, to state Hornqvist is far less effective than Neal is ludicrous.
Before Neal became a 30-40 goal scorer with Pittsburgh, he was averaging in the low 20s with Dallas. Hornqvist, while he’s only reached 30 goals one time, the fact he was able to manufacture that many on a team like Nashville who struggles mightily on the offensive side of the puck is phenomenal.
Imagine Hornqvist’s productivity when he’s paired up with the second best center in the league (Evgeni Malkin)? Nashville isn’t remotely adept at offense, and because Hornqvist somehow managed to muster up any kind of offense in that lineup is promising. Promising, because of the impact he can now make with Pittsburgh.
Yes, I thought Pittsburgh, at first, got gipped in this deal. Personally, if Neal were to be dealt for those two players, I thought some draft selections – any picks – would have been a fairer trade. Yet, as I sit back and analyze the trade over again, if Hornqvist turns out to be better than Neal, and Spaling contributes steadily in the bottom-six, Pittsburgh wound up receiving two for the price of one.
Hornqvist also is a right-handed shot – something that’s lacking in the Pens’ top-six. A real gritty-type player, Hornqvist, to me, is one of the more underrated skaters in the NHL because he was on a putrid Predators’ squad. Sidney Crosby and Malkin tend to bring the best out of players. Especially players who aren’t glorified. And Hornqvist fits that category.
The only issue that’s alarming with Hornqvist is he has a hard time staying healthy, and that was a major dilemma for Pittsburgh last season. Nonetheless, if he’s able to remain ailment-free, sky’s the limit for him.
What do I expect from Hornqvist this next season? A guy who’s reignited. A guy who’s determined to do whatever it takes, knowing he’s on a team that can win a Cup right now.
I expect him to be every bit as good as Neal was, and possibly better. Give him a chance.
If Hornqvist doesn’t pan-out, then we can start criticizing general manager Jim Rutherford.