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With Hornqvist likely out, who nabs his winger role on Opening Night?

Hornqvist’s hand injury looks to be keeping our Swedish winger from an Opening Night start, but who should we expect to fill his spot?

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Nashville Predators at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

All signs are pointing to veteran Patric Hornqvist sitting out the 2017 season opener due to the ongoing hand injury he suffered in the Stanley Cup Finals last June. Even though an earlier released report from GM Jim Rutherford stated that Hornqvist underwent surgery in the summer and had a high chance of returning to his teammates before the end of training camp, it’s clear that his hand still isn’t fully healed. In fact, it’s apparent he’ll not only be missing Game 1, but also Game 2 against a recovering Blackhawks team, as the two bouts were scheduled back-to-back.

“He’s making progress, for sure,” Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Progress is good, proper recovery is better, and there’s absolutely no rush for him to return with the depth Pittsburgh has at forward. He’s been skating too, which bodes well for the team. But with all that being said, the first real game of the season is just a day away, and it’s safe to assume he’ll be moved to the inactive list, allowing the Penguins to proceed with a final 23-man roster (13 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goaltenders).

That begs the question, who will we see listed as the second line’s right winger come puck drop Wednesday night vs. St. Louis?

From practice, it seems like Bryan Rust was getting listed with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, which would be a respectable replacement for Hornqvist’s workload.

This will mean that we might see Ryan Reaves or the potential return of Josh Archibald on the one of the bottom pairs, with Tom Kuhnhackl nabbing the other spot. This is a solid, last-minute fix, especially when you consider how much the Penguins like Kuhnhackl on the penalty kill.

Remember that this is all temporary, and Hornqvist returning 100% healthy to tackle the remaining however many games he plays after he’s activated is the bigger picture we should focus on. It’s times like these we can thank our lucky stars (again) that depth is consistently a convenient tool resting in Sullivan’s back pocket.