Ever since returning from his second concussion this season, Patric Hornqvist has severely cooled off in on-ice production.
His six points (three goals, three assists) in his last 20 games played appears as a huge stain, especially when you consider he hasn’t made it onto the score sheet in any of his last 10 contests. His last point (an assist) dates all the way back to January 8 vs. Florida. At even-strength, Hornqvist has been a total ghost, failing to drive offense as a third and fourth-line winger on the Penguins’ bottom-six.
Considering driving offense is the aggressive Swede’s M.O., this is becoming a big problem. Even though his possession metrics are fine, his high-danger chances for — a stat he usually dominates due to his annoying net-front presence — have gone ice-cold, with two HDCF in his past 10 games and only six total in his past 20. His expected goals percentages relative to his shot totals are also all in the red. And to be fair, it isn’t from a lack of trying. Hornqvist is still getting pucks on net. The quality of them has just taken a nose-dive.
There are a couple legitimate reasons for Hornqvist’s sudden decline in production. The obvious one is his ever-growing concussion history, and being that he has already has five career concussions playing in the NHL — two coming this season just a few months apart — the concern for CTE and/or long-term brain injury has completely enveloped him. Hornqvist has the uncanny ability to bounce back from concussions quickly, often times only taking a week or so to return to the lineup and play as if nothing happened. However, this time around, it’s possible he’s struggling more than he’s willing to admit and hasn’t fully recovered, and the post-concussion symptoms are taking a toll.
The other reason is his recent nightly deployment on the bottom-six. To put it bluntly, Hornqvist doesn’t belong on the third or fourth line with lesser skilled forwards, even though the emergence of Teddy Blueger is something to keep an eye on. His skill set is best utilized with top minutes and a playmaking center that can get him the puck where he thrives best: down low and in the slot. Hornqvist has flourished playing with Sidney Crosby, and it doesn’t come as a surprise that his stat lines fell off a cliff since being slotted in on lower lines with less minutes. Having to play alongside guys like Garrett Wilson and Matt Cullen isn’t going to get it done. He needs higher quality teammates. Just look at December (specifically his hat trick vs. Colorado) as proof.
Again, this might just be a precautionary move by Mike Sullivan to not push Hornqvist too much if his injury symptoms are still present. But if he’s healthy, given his rich history of success in this role, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be somewhere in the top-six. According to Sean Tierney’s production rate viz, Hornqvist is being grossly underused given his points rates per 60 and just about every other bucket you can find — the data doesn’t lie.
If Hornqvist is still dealing with concussion symptoms, he should rest. Obviously though, he and the Penguins’ coaching staff feel he’s well enough to play, otherwise he wouldn’t be in the lineup game after game. Hornqvist has gone on record to say he doesn’t believe his symptoms have lingered or disrupted his timing as well, but it’s not outrageous to connect the dots and theorize that he might still be in recovery. The fact remains that it’s been more than a month since his last point, and something needs to change.
(All data is courtesy of Natural Stat Trick)