The Florida Panthers added even more competition to their already loaded forward core this offseason by trading for Sam Reinhart and signing Joe Thornton. On top of that, prospects Anton Lundell and Grigori Denisenko are also throwing their hat in the competition for an NHL roster spot.
What does that mean for the Panthers? It could mean someone could be on their way out. Patric Hornqvist, who scored 14 goals and 32 points in 44 games last season, will be hard-pressed to regain his spot in the top six with the new acquisitions. With two years left on his current $5.3 million per year contract, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Panthers would want to move that contract instead of having him play in the bottom six.
Panthers’ Depth Lessens Hornqvist’s Role
Hornqvist spent 68.5% of his ice time on a line alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov in the top six last season. That doesn’t look as likely this season, especially now that Reinhart will likely be serving as Barkov’s right-hand man alongside Carter Verhaeghe and Huberdeau’s line centered by Sam Bennett will probably feature a dog fight between Owen Tippett and Anthony Duclair.
The third line also looks pretty set in stone, with one of Duclair or Tippett most likely taking a spot alongside Frank Vatrano and possibly Lundell, who has been very impressive during the Panthers’ prospect development camp. This leaves the 34-year-old competing for a spot on the fourth line with Ryan Lomberg and Mason Marchment, who each make over $4 million less than Hornqvist and are both eight years younger.
Hornqvist provided a lot of goal scoring, grit, and leadership to the Panthers, especially when he scored six goals in the Panthers’ first 12 games of the season, putting him one goal behind Verhaeghe for the team lead. A lot of those numbers could’ve been a product of playing in the top six and being guaranteed a spot with Barkov and Huberdeau, who combined for 19 assists in the first 12 games of the season.
Thornton’s addition adds the leadership and the physicality that Hornqvist brings, while Reinhart’s arrival brings goal scoring at a much more reliable pace than Hornqvist’s playstyle allows for. Denisenko is also another winger that brings a dynamic offense presence that Hornqvist can’t, as he possesses excellent speed and playmaking ability.
With Florida’s forward depth forcing Hornqvist into a role that would likely not be sustainable for him, it may be likely that his days are numbered. But what’s next for the winger?
Hornqvist’s Future Awaits
One very likely scenario is that the Panthers package Hornqvist with a draft pick to acquire a left-handed defenseman. As of right now, Gustav Forsling and Markus Nutivaara are the only returning left-handed defensemen who were NHL regulars last year following the buyout of Keith Yandle.
One team that has a surplus on the blueline that could use Hornqvist’s leadership is the Seattle Kraken. He could fill a role much like James Neal did for the Vegas Golden Knights during their inaugural season, serving as a leader who knows what it takes to win. Like Neal, he was a Stanley Cup Champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins and he has the same type of playstyle as Neal did. He’s a bruising power forward who can put the puck in the back of the net.
In a package that includes Hornqvist, the Panthers could likely receive a player like Jeremy Lauzon, whose playing time could be severely impacted by Seattle’s depth on the left side of the defense. That group currently consists of former Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano, Jamie Oleksiak, and Vince Dunn. All three of them are capable defensemen who can play on many other teams’ top two pairings.
Lauzon is another talented defenseman who could play that same type of role on most teams. The problem is, much like for Hornqvist, the role for him isn’t necessarily available. He spent 51.1% of his ice time alongside Charlie McAvoy on the Bruins’ top pairing last season and now finds himself in a situation where he is fighting for a spot on the roster altogether.
With Seattle’s forward core being a lot weaker than its defense, the addition of Hornqvist could help add even more depth and leadership to that group, while Lauzon could fill a much-needed role on the Panthers’ blue line.
The Panthers have one of the best problems to have right now: they have too much depth. But moves need to be made to make room for younger players like Denisenko, who add even more to that depth. By the looks of it, Hornqvist could be one of the players sacrificed in a move.