Crosby & Hornqvist Show Draft Order Doesn’t Matter

The 2005 NHL Entry Draft is memorable in Pittsburgh for many reasons: it followed a season-long lockout, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the lottery to choose the first pick in that draft and, of course, chose future team captain and Stanley Cup champion Sidney Crosby to don the black and gold.

What Penguins management and fans didn’t know 14 years ago was that the 230th and last pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, a Swedish right-wing named Patric Hornqvist, would become just as integral in the team’s success as their top-pick superstar, and even join him on the team’s top line.

The Case of Patric Hornqvist

Draft rankings are like statistics and superstitions: they always matter until they don’t.

In a world of numbers, it makes sense to assume that the best eligible players have the highest goal and point totals, extensive ice time or high save percentages, and those numbers correlate to a higher pick in the draft. That logic has been true for many top pick selections like Crosby, Mario Lemieux, Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin.

Based on that logic, it would then be fair to assume that players picked last in a draft have some value, but are more likely to be used as patch pieces when the regular roster is depleted, a la defenseman Zach Trotman who was taken 210th overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins.

Trotman has been with the Penguins organization since 2017 and primarily plays for the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but is currently called up in the absence of defensemen Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang.

Zach Trotman, Boston Bruins
Zach Trotman was drafted last by the Boston Bruins in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He currently plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins.(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Hornqvist is proof of how wrong those assumptions can be. Following three seasons with Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League, Hornqvist broke into the NHL with the Nashville Predators during the 2008-09 season. He played 28 games his rookie season, spending most of the season with the Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.

Despite an average rookie season – Hornqvist posted seven points and racked up 16 penalty minutes in his 28 games – he played five more consecutive, almost full seasons with Nashville and experienced three playoff runs before being traded to Pittsburgh in the summer of 2014.

In 11 NHL seasons, Hornqvist has played in over 700 games, hitting the milestone on March 1 against the Buffalo Sabres. He has also added 455 total points, 397 penalty minutes, a Stanley-Cup-winning goal and back-to-back Stanley Cups to his resume.

Hornqvist has scored three career hat tricks, all with the Penguins. One occurred during the 2016 Stanley Cup run in a 5-2 win against the New York Rangers in the first round, and his most recent one in Dec. 2018 set a Penguins franchise record for the fastest recorded natural hat trick, with all three goals coming in 2:47.

An even more interesting fact is that Hornqvist is known as a flexible piece for the Penguins, playing wing on any of the top three lines, but is often paired with Crosby on the first. Crosby has the reputation of a goal scorer and a playmaker. Hornqvist, too, embodies these qualities.

Hornqvist is known for his in-your-face style of play, never afraid to back down from a puck battle or a shoving match, but he’s also instrumental in getting inside the blue paint and setting up shop in front of goaltenders to bury rebounds and tip-ins. Exactly the kind of player who can close the deal on one of Crosby’s miraculous rushes.

Related: Hornqvist’s Hat-Night Hat Trick Sets Penguins Record

Despite having 228 picks between them in the 2005 Entry Draft, Crosby and Hornqvist have led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups and have collaborated for a number of goals over the past five seasons. But their odds-defying joint performance and chemistry makes one wonder, what could cause a last overall draft pick to perform so well this far into his career? Is it Hornqvist’s individual talent, or was the 2005 draft class as a whole just spectacular?

2005 Draft Class: Individual Effort or Overall Success?

The 2005 Draft was one of the more talked about and highly contested events in recent hockey history. Not only was Crosby touted as one of the best up-and-coming players for the new era of the NHL, but it was also coming on the heels of an entire calendar year without professional hockey, and billing for the top pick came down to a lottery.

In the race for Crosby, all teams were assigned one to three lottery balls based on their playoff performance in the past three seasons. The Penguins, one of four teams with three balls in the pool, won the lottery and the right to make the first selection in the draft. The rest of the Penguins and Crosby’s story has been told time and time again, so much so that it overshadows the rest of the draft and the players chosen.

Penguins center Sidney Crosby
Penguins center Sidney Crosby has been a staple in the black and gold since 2005, but what about all the other players from that draft class? (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Though picked last, Hornqvist obviously has innate talent and situational and puck awareness skills honed from years of practice and training. He could have been picked second, 50th or last and would still have the same drive and determination to learn, adjust and react in different situations.

Sometimes, too, draft selections are based not on players’ skills, but on specific teams’ needs. Case in point could be Hornqvist’s current teammate and draft class alum, Jack Johnson, who was chosen third overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005. In looking for defensive depth, the Hurricanes didn’t have forwards on their radar, bumping Hornqvist down another spot for reasons he couldn’t control.

The Penguins have acquired eight players from the 2005 Entry Draft over the years. They include:

  • Sidney Crosby – Drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Jack Johnson – Drafted third overall by the Carolina Hurricanes
  • Matt Niskanen – Drafted 28th overall by the Dallas Stars
  • James Neal – Drafted 33rd overall by the Dallas Stars
  • Taylor Chorney – Drafted 36th overall by the Edmonton Oilers
  • Kris Letang – Drafted 62nd overall the Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Joe Vitale – Drafted 195th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Patric Hornqvist – Drafted 230th overall by the Nashville Predators

There have been nine Stanley Cups won among the careers of these players and eight of them come from the players drafted first, 62nd and 230th.

Related: Five Forgotten Picks of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft

And so begins the sticky discussion of how and why some players perform the way they do after a draft. Analysts have their numbers and armchair general managers have their opinions, but individual success can’t be predicted.

First overall picks like Crosby, last overall picks like Hornqvist and undrafted players like Chris Kunitz have all had their names added to the Stanley Cup, proving that a player’s position on the draft board – or even their absence from it – has no bearing on future success in the NHL. Individual talent, coupled with hard work and willingness to learn are better keys to victory.