After trading James Neal to the Nashville Predators on Friday night, a big part of the narrative fueled by Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford was that Patric Hornqvist would be a different type of player. Take a look at these quotes the Pens GM gave out after the trade:
"We were just trying to change the mix of our team a little bit and get a little bit different type player [with Patric Hornqvist],"
"Hornqvist plays with an edge, he goes to the net, works the corners."
"[Hornqvist] is just an all-around player. That's what we wanted."
Ron Cook (lol) of the Post-Gazette summed up a common refrain as well- that Neal wasn't the most likeable or easy going player on the team too.
It's easy to say good riddance to James Neal. He badly underachieved for the Penguins in the postseason. He is a hot head who often took retaliatory penalties that put his teammates in bad spots. He is a dirty player who occasionally tried to hurt people and was suspended three times, including last season for kneeing Boston's Brad Marchand in the head and in the 2012 playoffs for charging Philadelphia's Claude Giroux. He wasn't especially popular in the team room because of his arrogance and surly personality.
About potential character and attitude concerns, Rutherford would only add, "everything comes into play," which is enough of an indicator right there.
It's impossible to quantify that type of personality and "good for the room" type of intangibles, but we certainly can try to breakdown the claims that Hornqvist goes to the net, and whether or not he's a different type of player. Our own @Mike Darnay ran the data points of where each player has scored his goals over the past three seasons. All goals (power play and even strength) were included. The results are staggering.
The first thing should just be the sheer number of dots on the screen. There are 88 of them, and this is from 2011-12 to current. In fact, only four players (Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Phil Kessel and Corey Perry) have scored more goals in the past three seasons than James Neal.
Neal's goals have come from all over the ice- with no more than 14% of his total goals coming from a single sector. By my count 13 goals have come from standing in the crease or being just a couple of feet out of it. Even more impressively, there's a lot of green on the screen, meaning Neal has a high percentage shot at about anywhere on the ice. Makes sense, being as he has a very good shot and quick release.
He scored from either the left, the right or just in front of the net- not pigeon-holed into a "stand in one spot and shoot it really hard" power play specialist, though of Neal's 88 goals above 43% (38) of them did come on the power play.
There is no specialization, Neal has been a dangerous goal scorer in terms of shooting percentage and volume of goals from basically any spot in the offensive zone.
Hornqvist's chart is a different story. He only has 53 goals in the past three seasons (though he did combine to score 51 in the two seasons before, indicating perhaps he could improve his totals) and nearly all of them have come from exactly in front of the net.
Unlike Neal, who has some pretty green areas all over the ice, Hornqvist is not a very good shooting player. He has not been scoring beautiful goals from everywhere on the ice, his chart is much more simple and basic- go to the net and power one in.
Hornqvist also scored a bigger percentage of his goals in the past three seasons at regular strength with 35.8% (19) coming on the power play. With Chris Kunitz as the power play's incumbent net-front presence, will Hornqvist get a chance to take those minutes with the top unit? Based on what we see above, it seems like he should at least be given the chance.
At even strength, Hornqvist has never played with an elite playmaking center like Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin- players capable of giving their wingers opportunities and scoring chances from all over the ice when they draw in the defense and distribute great chances. Perhaps, if fortunate, Hornqvist will get the chance to score from further out at times when he receives these opportunities. However, he's not likely to transform into James Neal's shot simply by being on the ice with #87 or #71. Tigers don't change their stripes.
Fans today don't like being fed narratives, but when Jim Rutherford says that Patric Hornqvist goes to the net more often than James Neal, there is significant evidence to show that is in fact the case. The inequity of skill lost in the transaction may (and should) be troubling to Pens fans, however this is also a group of fans that frequently begs for more simple hockey and a better net front presence.They achieved that goal in this trade.
There's little doubt that Hornqvist should give the Pens another Chris Kunitz like player around the front of the net. Ideally, that and playing with an MVP caliber center will translate into a lot more dots in the years ahead for Hornqvist. Despite what value is placed on Neal's personality off the ice, he was a very dangerous and productive goal scorer on it.
Hornqvist is not going to replicate the overall dangerousness of Neal, but he should play a more simple and possibly be just as effective, especially in the tough moments in playoff series where Neal (4 points in his last 17 playoff games) seemed to fall away.