The Pittsburgh Penguins have traded high scoring winger James Neal to Nashville in exchange for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Since Pittsburgh fans don't get to see Nashville a ton, we asked our friends down south to help us out with a scouting report.
After yesterday's big trade, the Pittsburgh Penguins have lost James Neal to the Nashville Predators. But they also brought back forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Since we in Pittsburgh don't get to see Nashville a ton, we asked our friend Jon from On the Forecheck (the excellent Preds blog on SB Nation) to give us some 4-1-1 on the newest Penguins.
He isn't a flashy guy by any means, but he can play anywhere he's put and will immediately improve the Pens' forward depth. His 33 points this past year are a little bit smoke and mirrors, especially since his shooting % was way above the norm for him, and he spent more time on the PP. It was weird to see him there, to be honest.
Still, he could be counted on for 10ish goals a season in Nashville, so maybe that will increase in Pittsburgh. Also, you don't see too many broken hearts over him just because of the dearth of 3rd line guys that the Preds have.
Spaling seems like an interesting piece. He'll turn 26 in September and has 287 career NHL games under his belt. To Jon's point about shooting percentage, Spaling shot 10.7% and 9.3% in his first two seasons in the NHL, followed by a dramatic uptick of 15.8% in the lockout season and 15.3% this past season. His goal totals, however, have stayed pretty consistent: 8, 10, 9 and 13 in his four year NHL career.
Hornqvist on the other hand is a different story. He's been a fan favorite for years and is one of only four players to crack 30 goals in franchise history. That's pretty incredible considering he was the last overall pick. Though he hasn't hit that number again, I wouldn't be shocked to see him do it over there with real line mates. Hornqvist does great work in front of the net
and is one of the few people that voluntarily stand in front of a Shea Weber slapshot. He'll add a presence to the power play and get under the skin of the opposition.
Perhaps unknown to many outside Nashville, he's an incredible locker room guy. He's worn the "A" for the last two seasons, gives everything he's got when he's playing (regardless of score) and is just an overall great person. That is going to be the part that Nashville will miss the most. Even better? He's led or been near the top of Nashville's possession metrics for the last four years. He missed out this year, but was still above 51%.
Hornqvist's 16:51 played per game ranked 3rd on the team among forwards
, and he was 2nd on the team in power play time per game (to the tune of 2:55 per night
). He didn't play but 50 seconds of short-handed time all season, so unless his role is drastically changed he probably isn't going to be an option for that unit in Pittsburgh.
With 77 hits
, he was perhaps a little more physical than expected, and his 53 takeaways were tops in Nashville
(and would have been the best among Penguin players last year too), suggesting Hornqvist is exceptional at hunting the puck and recovering possession.
Fancy-stat wise, Hornqvist presents an impressive profile
relative his ex-teammates in Nashville.He got favorable zone-starts (52.1%) and defeated them handily, with the impressive 51.1% Corsi that Jon mentioned above. Aside from Mike Fisher, Hornqvist had the highest quality of competition faced by any forward on the team.
It remains to be seen if the James Neal trade will work out well for the Penguins. Hornqvist doesn't have the high-end shot that Neal does, but playing alongside a stud center in Sidney Crosby
or Evgeni Malkin
, he should be able to replace the most of the point production that losing Neal will bring on.
Spaling could well be the x-factor of this trade- his advanced stats are not encouraging, but there is little doubt that he is an upgrade over some of the players in the Penguins bottom six players. If Spaling can continue to grow as a player and improve his possession metrics, he could help tip the scales towards making this a good deal for Pittsburgh.
Pens GM Jim Rutherford did his due diligence and talked to 15 teams
about James Neal. This package, he felt, was the best chance for the Penguins. I'm sure everyone would have rather gotten a home-run trade win, but a team has to take what they can get when they want to move a player.