With possible Phil Kessel trade, Penguins need productive Patric Hornqvist | TribLIVE.com

With possible Phil Kessel trade, Penguins need productive Patric Hornqvist

Jonathan Bombulie
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist blisters a shot past the Avalanche’s Ian Cole for his second goal in the third period Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

If the Pittsburgh Penguins, as expected, trade Phil Kessel this summer, they’re probably going to need the right wings that remain on the roster to ramp up their production next season.

That’s why Patric Hornqvist’s resurgence while playing for the Swedish national team at the World Championships last month is an important development.

Hornqvist was a top-line scorer for the Swedes in the tournament, netting seven goals in seven games of pool play. The only player who scored more was Canada’s Mark Stone with eight, and he played two more games.

It’s significant because of the way Hornqvist’s season played out.

• Hornqvist was outstanding in the first half of the season, recording 15 goals and 26 points in 34 games. If he kept up that pace, he was in line for a career year.

• On Jan. 8, he took a puck to the face, suffering his fourth documented concussion since the start of the 2016-17 season.

• After he returned to the lineup 11 days later, his performance was miserable. He managed three goals and 11 points in 35 games.

After the season, Hornqvist said his paltry production was the result of a long slump, not lingering effects of the concussion. Those words ring truer after his superb performance on the international stage.

Given that he has four years left on a contract that pays him $5.3 million annually, Hornqvist’s continued effectiveness is important to the Penguins.

Hornqvist is one of the top net-front presences in the game. He’s willing to stand at the top of the crease and take a beating in order to score on tips, screens and rebounds.

Here’s a look at some other players from the past generation or two who played a similar style of game to Hornqvist and how their production held up into their 30s.

• Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom recorded his last 20-goal season at age 36 with the 2009-10 Red Wings and was somewhat effective for two more seasons after that.

• Longtime Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Smyth was still hitting the 20-goal mark routinely through his age-34 season with Los Angeles in 2010-11.

• John LeClair turned in a 20-goal season at age 36 while playing for the Penguins during Sidney Crosby’s rookie year in 2005-06.

• Dave Andreychuk was still patrolling the front of the net to the tune of 22 goals and a Stanley Cup championship at age 40 with Tampa Bay in 2003-04.

The net-front standouts who don’t succeed well past their 30th birthday generally had careers shortened by injuries.

• Craig Simpson was an elite net-front performer for the Oilers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but a back injury ended his career at age 28.

• Philadelphia’s Tim Kerr tortured Penguins goalies for years, but a series of five shoulder surgeries in 14 months essentially ended his effectiveness around the age of 30.

• Johan Franzen’s last full season was a 29-goal campaign for Detroit at age 31 in 2011-12. After suffering at least four documented concussions, he struggled through parts of four more seasons before retiring. He is battling the serious effects of post-concussion syndrome to this day.

Add it all up, and the lesson in Hornqvist’s case in clear: If he can stay healthy, his skills will not likely deteriorate as he plays out his current contract. If he can’t, trouble looms.

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all offseason long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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