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2015-16 Pensburgh Recap: Patric Hörnqvist

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After struggling under Johnston like most of the other Penguins, Hörnqvist was among their most productive players once Sullivan took over.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Age and Contract Status

Age: 29 (DOB: January 1, 1987)

UFA, 2 years remaining with a $4.25m AAV.

Preseason Expectations

The trade for Kessel, Dupuis' health, Kunitz' decline, Perron's performance... going into 2015-2016, Hörnqvist might have been the winger with the least questions about his place and role on the team. He had finished 3rd on the team in points per game with 51 points in 65 games, and had shown that he could play with both Malkin and Crosby. His strengths, shot generation and net-front play, are a big asset at even strength and on the powerplay. It was expected of him to be a fixture in the top six, and on the first powerplay unit.

2015-16 Stats

Regular season: 82 games played, 22 goals, 29 assists, 51 points, 38 penalty minutes

Playoffs: 24gp, 9g + 4a, 13p, 10 PIMs

Verdict

The coaching change impacted everyone, and Hörnqvist is no exception. Before Johnston was fired, Hörnqvist struggled to produce and bounced from line to line. First he played with Perron and Malkin, then with Dupuis and Crosby, then with Kunitz and Bonino. He had only 10 points in 28 games before Sullivan replaced Johnston.

After the change, it took him only a few games to double that total. In January alone, he had 11 points in 11 games. Under Sullivan, only Crosby, Letang, and Kessel produced more points than him. And only Crosby and Malkin produced points at a higher rate than Hörnqvist in that span.

The coaching change also had an impact on his shot generation - something that Hörnqvist excelled at throughout his career. Under Johnston, it had reached a career low. Though the rate at which he produced shots was still middle of the pack on the Penguins. But under Sullivan, it immediately improved again, and from December onwards, he produced the most shots among Penguins player, and at the highest rate.

Via Corsica Hockey, a look at his even strength shot rate since 2011. The dip in 2016 was in December.

His linemates stabilized, and he mostly played with Kunitz and Crosby on a line to end the regular season.

Here is how Crosby and Sullivan describe Hörnqvist:

-Crosby lauded Hornqvist:
"Oh yeah. 'Horny,' he just works so hard. He's the hardest working guy out there every single night. He just sets the example with the way he works. He'll do whatever it takes to win games whether it's standing in front taking those extra shots or getting a puck out blocking a shot. It's all about winning for him. He shows that with the way he competes, the way he plays every single day."

-Sullivan was keen on Hornqvist as well:
"It's hard not to love this guy. He just loves hockey. He loves being around it. He loves to compete. He's full of energy. He wears his emotions right on his sleeve, sometimes to a fault. But we love him. We love what he brings to this team. He plays the game in the battle areas. He goes to the net. He does a lot of those thankless jobs that you can't necessary quantify. But it helps lines be successful and it helps teams win. He takes tons of crosschecks in front of the net to provide screens on our power play or even our five on five play. To see him get rewarded in overtime for us is a thrill because he is really is a great teammate and passionate about the game."

What Sullivan says is true - Hörnqvist's teams perform a lot better with him on the ice than without him. And they have done so for a long time, even before he started playing with Crosby and Malkin.

(data from Corsica Hockey)

At even strength, Hörnqvist's team have a better shot differential with him (Rel.CF%), a better goal differential (Rel.GF%), and also a better shot differential when weighed for shot quality (Rel.xGF%).

The following graph looks at all skaters between 2009 and 2016, and how they performed relative to their team. The color is how much they played. Blue means a lot of ice time, red mens less. Hörnqvist is in the upper right corner, right under Patrice Bergeron and next toe Jonathan Toews. Crosby and Malkin aren't far away, either.

Forward 2009-2016, Even Strength, >3000 minutes

When Hörnqvist didn't produce a lot, and it looked like the Penguins needed a d-man to get out of the hole they were in, many called for him to be traded. For a lot of fans, he seemed expendable and some argued that his gritty, hard-working reputation could lead to him being overvalued among GMs. One could argue that his gritty and hard-working reputation has also led to him being undervalued among some, since those descriptions are often connected to players who aren't very skilled.

Future

Just like before the last season, there is a pretty clear understanding of what role Hörnqvist will likely play, and what in turn he will produce and contribute to the team. A top six forward, a lot of powerplay minutes, and among the

Hörnqvist has two years left on his contract, and in those two years he should be a valuable part of the team and make it better. If the Penguins do move him before his contract ends, the return must provide better value than Hörnqvist - which may be not easy to get.

Hörnqvist's HERO Chart

(From Own The Puck)

2015-16 Game-by-Game Analysis

(From HockeyViz, explained here)

GIFs of the Year

Hörnqvist spends a lot of time in front of the opponents nets. Sometimes he gets to know them - be it with head pats...

And sometimes the goalies decide that they don't really like him.

Those goalies might just be jealous that they didn't get to play beach volleyball with him yet.

And finally, enjoy his hat trick against the Rangers from Game 1.

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Feel free to vote in the poll below to rate Patric Hörnqvist's season. Vote based on your expectations coming into the season, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.