Watch NBC’s coverage for about 2 minutes and you’ll see how much they like the human-interest story. Whether they’re talking about Lindsey Vonn’s shin, Alexandre Bilodeau’s handicapped brother or some Chinese figure skaters’ marriage; they’re all about the back story. They pick and choose the events they’re going to promote—but more specifically, they pick and choose the athletes that they’re going to promote. But let’s be real: NBC is attracted to the human-interest story like that fat kid you went to school with was attracted to birthday cake.
Buried on CNBC in the middle of the afternoon on tape-delay, Hockey Canada Place will have one of the better success stories that no one will hear about. You won’t be seeing any tear-jerking pieces. I sincerely doubt that Mary Carillo will stop her polar bear exposes to look into his journey. In fact, he’s not American and his name isn’t Crosby, nor Ovechkin— so the chances of NBC acknowledging his existence are slim to none. But I challenge you to tell me a better “feel good” story than Patric Hornqvist’s assent from questionable prospect to Swedish Olympian.
Most Nashville Predators fans know his story. He was the NHL’s 2005 version of Mr. Irrelevant—the very last pick in the entire draft. Upon being drafted, the 230th pick took his game to another level in the Swedish Elite League. His 23 goals in the 2005-06 campaign broke Peter Forsberg’s junior record in the SEL and helped him earn Rookie of the Year honors. You know he was wondering, “Where the hell was this the year BEFORE my draft year?” Regardless, he showed the potential to be more than your average 7th round draft pick.
The breakout season allowed Hornqvist to earn something just as important as his Rookie of the Year award—an NHL contract. The Predators rewarded Hornqvist with a 3-year-entry-level contract worth $1.75 million after seeing the enormous growth from their Swedish project. For a guy that was selected at the end of the draft, Horqvist’s NHL contract is more successful than most prospects can expect.
Upon signing his first NHL contract, he followed up his record breaking 05-06 season with another relatively strong performance. His 18 goals and 30 points were a slight dip from the previous season, but still showed that he had the skills to produce in one of the best leagues in the world.
After the 2007-08 season in Sweden, the Predators decided it was time to bring him into their system to take the next step in the development process. While dealing with the Predators’ poor decision, Hornqvist found himself shouldered with the pressure of producing on a scoring line from Day 1. He managed a couple of goals in his first 9 games before he went into a complete tailspin. He scored 7 points in his first 14 games—and that’s all he would muster in his 28 NHL games during the 2008-09 season before the Predators sent him down to their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.
“Needless to say, most thought he’d start the 2009-10 season with the farm club after drastically failing to live up to expectations the season before. The organization knew the talent was still there (he had posted very successful numbers in both the Swedish Elite League and during his time in Milwaukee) but they started to wonder if his game would translate to the NHL level.” –Jeremy K. Gover (Section 303)
It’s interesting that the Predators thought that he’d be able to jump from European hockey to their top line without missing a beat. Their decision may have stemmed from necessity—they needed a guy who could be one of their top 6 forwards. But they also may have been looking at the TYPE of player Hornqvist was and hoped that his game would translate quickly into the North American brand of hockey.
It seems like just about every fan, analyst and member of management is quick to compare him to Tomas Holmstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. Apparently, anyone who is Swedish and screens the goaltender automatically gets labeled as a “Holmstrom-type.” Another comparison that might be a little more appropriate is Ryan Smyth. He’s not the best skater (although he’s made improvements), does great work along the boards and scores most of his goals within 5 feet of the goal crease. But at 5’11 and 188 pounds, he seems closer to Captain Canada than Demolition Man. He plays in the tough areas of the ice and scores the dirty goals. Every team could use that—no matter which continent they’re playing on. Even his head coach agrees with the Holmstrom comparison:
“He is similar to (Tomas) Holmstrom in Detroit. He has great retrieval skills, especially finding pucks in tight areas.” –Barry Trotz
This season, there was question whether he would start in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals or get another shot in Nashville. Again they gave him the opportunity to start with the big club—and this time he wouldn’t let this opportunity go. Aided by a season’s worth of seasoning and North American experience in the minors, Hornqvist hit the ground running. He showed management that he did, in fact, have what it takes to score at a high level in the NHL.
For perspective on how productive Hornqvist has been this season, one needs to look only as far as his draft class. Take a look at the guys that were selected in the 2005 Draft and then take a look at the goal leaders in the NHL. Only Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan and Anze Kopitar have scored more goals this season. In other words: the #1 overall pick, #2 overall pick, #11 overall pick… and the #230 overall pick.
It’s safe to say that he’s exceeded any and all expectations—and done so faster than anyone could have possibly imagined. Even though he was successful in Sweden, his strong assent toward the NHL goal scoring leader board has caught most people by surprise.
“Patric Hornqvist leading Nashville in scoring with 21 goals: He’s playing just 15 minutes per game, and no 20-goal scorer is playing fewer minutes than he is. In terms of individual production, he probably has been the NHL’s biggest surprise.” –Kevin Allen (USA Today)
In addition to goal scoring production, he’s done plenty of little things that don’t show up on the score sheet, but help put W’s win the Win column. He has one of the best plus/minus rankings on the team and many people think that he has been the overall MVP of the surprising Predators‘ season. He’s even garnered national attention by winning one of the 3 Stars of the Week in December. And he couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.
He’s a Restricted Free Agent at the end of the season. Something tells me that the Predators are going to have to go a little bigger than the 3-year, $1.75 million entry-level contract they signed him to in 2007. It looks like he has a knack for showing his potential when he’s shooting for a contract. Regardless, I doubt the Predators are going to have any qualms with giving a 7th rounder a bump in pay after a potential 30-goal season.
From last pick in the draft to Top 6 forward on Team Sweden. Who says that just because the professionals have taken over, there aren’t those feel good stories anymore? I’m sure Predators fans feel good about it… you know Hornqvist has to. He might even channel his inner-Al Michaels: DO YOU BELIEVE IN…. #230 draft picks from Sweden?!?