Patric Hornqvist scored 22 goals for the Nashville Predators last season, good for 73rd in the NHL and placing him in the company of players like Brent Burns, Alexander Semin and Matt Read. It's a classic case of "one of these things is not like the others," though, as it's highly unlikely that Burns, Semin or Read will jump into the NHL's top 20 goal scorers in 2014-15.
Hornqvist, on the other hand, is poised to do just that. The 5'11", 189-pound forward has scored at least 20 goals in each of his four full campaigns—he only scored two goals in 28 games his rookie season and four times in 24 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season—and has averaged 0.29 goals per game across his career.
Excuse the echo chamber comment here, but if Hornqvist can score at that clip for the Predators (the league's 19th-most effective goal-producing team in 2013-14, the 29th-most effective in 2012-13 and so on), then he's going to set the world on fire in a Pittsburgh Penguins uniform.
Patric Hornqvist's best season (30 goals) saw him play w/Marcel Goc and Steve Sullivan as primary linemates. Imagine him w/Crosby or Malkin.— Seth Rorabaugh (@emptynetters) July 3, 2014
When naming the NHL's best offensive centers, you won't be able to make it through more than five or six names without naming both of Hornqvist's potential pivots. The 27-year-old is looking to line up alongside either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, and that's the equivalent to winning the hockey lottery either way.
It seems likely that Hornqvist will start the season off on the second line alongside Malkin. Adam Gretz at SB Nation recently took a look at what we can reasonably expect from that duo based on what No. 71 has done for teammates in the past. He writes:
Even though his numbers have not been anywhere near as good when away from Malkin, Neal's 1.93 points/60 average is still a very good number and would put him with pretty strong company...
The good news for Pittsburgh is that the key player it received for Neal -- Hornqvist -- has put up similar numbers throughout his career in Nashville while playing on a team with less talent around him and in a system that wasn't anywhere near as wide open. For his career, Hornqvist has averaged 1.90 even-strength points/60 and, perhaps most impressively, has managed to get more than 11 shots on goal per 60 minutes. And if he plays alongside Malkin, he's looking at an almost certain jump in that production.
Gretz goes on to conclude that Hornqvist won't be able to match James Neal's scoring pace outright, but that doesn't mean that the former Predator won't be able to crack the NHL's top 20 scorers. Jason Pominville finished 20th in goals last season with 30—only eight more tallies than Hornqvist managed while skating with Mike Fisher or Matt Cullen.
Fisher has averaged 0.29 assists per game throughout his 15-year career. Malkin has averaged 0.76. Expect an uptick of at least eight tallies from Hornqvist, and that number could climb even higher if his on-ice chemistry with Malkin is anywhere near what Neal experienced with Geno.
Malkin has been a lethal point producer since he entered the league, but he's at his most dangerous when he's playing with a winger who crashes the crease.
Neal is more of a sniper—albeit one of the better shooters in the NHL—while Hornqvist drives to the net mouth in search of those dirty goals. He had 19 goals off of tip-ins in 2013-14, according to SportingCharts.com, and that number should jump with Malkin shooting for Hornqvist's stick as he drives to the net.
He's not going to put up Steven Stamkos-like numbers just because he's with Malkin. But Hornqvist should be able to cover the loss of Neal and will crack the league's top-20 goal-scoring list if he remains healthy.