In the simplest terms, Patric Hornqvist needs one sentence to describe why he was willing to waive his no-trade clause and allow the Pittsburgh Penguins to trade him to the Florida Panthers.
“When one team wants you and the other team doesn’t want you,” Hornqvist said, “it makes the decision way easier.”
The Panthers made it clear they wanted him, and the relationship that was completed on Sept. 24 already looks like it’s working out for both individual and team.
For Hornqvist, it gives the 34-year-old and 13-year NHL veteran an opportunity to prove he still has gas in the tank and can be productive for a team with playoff aspirations. He’s working on the Panthers’ second forward line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Alex Wennberg as well as the team’s top power play unit. He already has four points (three goals, one assist) in two games.
“I came in here as fresh blood,” Hornqvist said, “and I’m going to show everyone I can keep playing and be effective out there.”
For the Panthers, they now have at their disposal a two-time Stanley Cup champion and a fiery, vocal, veteran leader to hopefully be that missing piece separating the Panthers from a team that dreams of contending for the playoffs to making a deep run.
“We thought he brought really good experience to our team,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The intangibles that he brings is something that really has helped our team when you look back at it. I think that’s probably the biggest factor.”
He’s outspoken at practice and commands attention in games. Quenneville wasted little time making Hornqvist the team’s fourth alternate captain along with Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle. It provides a nice — and, arguably, needed — balance to the Panthers’ young leadership group, with many taking a lead-by-example approach.
“Most Swedes are kinda quiet,” Quenneville said. “He’s not, and it’s in a positive way. ... He communicates. He’s talkative. Sometimes you can say he can be on you, and I think that’s the type of thing that whether it’s coaches that are on you or players pushing each other, accountability is a great thing. His is done in a real good way. I think that’s healthy and as a coach, you couldn’t ask for a better situation to have that message related by players. And he backs it up with how he works.”
“It’s just my way to get into games, make sure I’m ready and make sure my teammates are ready, too,” Hornqvist added. “We all have different personalities and you have to bring the best out of every single guy.”
His tenacity on the ice has shown up early, and his production has lived up to the vocal presence.
Hornqvist, who entered the season with 480 career points (238 goals, 242 assists), has put up multipoint efforts in each of the Panthers’ first two games of the season. He scored his first goal as a Panther in the third period of their 5-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, firing a snap shot from the right board that bounced off a Blackhawks defenseman and into the net. He added an assist on a Huberdeau power-play goal about 11 minutes later to close out scoring.
He then scored both of the Panthers’ power-play goals in Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime win over the Blackhawks with both coming in essentially the same fashion. With pass-first forwards Aleksander Barkov and Huberdeau joining him on the man advantage with defensemen Ekblad and Yandle rounding out the group, Hornqvist has regularly parked himself in front of the net when Florida’s power play is in the offensive zone. Sometimes, it’s to create havoc for the undermanned opponent. Other times, like Tuesday, it’s putting himself in position to flick in loose pucks or rebounded shots and get them in the back of the net.
He tipped in an Ekblad shot in the first period, nine seconds into the Panthers’ first power-play opportunity of the night, to give Florida an early 2-0 advantage. He did the same with a Yandle shot from the blue line in the third period to tie the score 4-4.
“He simply has that knack of playing [around the] goal,” Quenneville said. “He’s a distraction for goalies… There’s been a lot of loose pucks hanging around the net these last few games. Those have got to get to the back of the net at some point. I think some of them were going in because of his screens and the tips and a lot of different looks going with him creating traffic.”
The early production was key for Hornqvist as he adjusts to a new team with at least eight new players regularly set to be in the lineup on game day.
But he also knows it’s just the first step.
“The transition was really easy so far,” Hornqvist said. “Obviously, there’s going to be some bumps on the way, but I like where we are right now and if we keep climbing, we’ll keep winning games.”