It was the final game of the season for the Philadelphia Flyers, but one player was nervous for the game all afternoon. 22-year old defenseman Robert Hagg was called up by the Flyers on Sunday morning prior to their season finale that night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Hagg was fired up for his debut, and he didn’t disappoint. He was all over the ice in his first NHL game.
Hagg led the team in shots on goal (5), shot attempts (9), and hits (4), while also blocking three shots in an impressive 21:19 of ice time. 10:33 of those minutes came with Shayne Gostisbehere on a bottom-four pair in the first two periods, but then he got promoted to the top pair and played 8:26 total with fellow rookie Ivan Provorov.
“It was awesome.” Hagg said of his debut. “It’s a dream come true to come up here and play in the NHL.”
He was all smiles as he tried to shake out the jitters while gearing up for his first game in the show.
The Flyers gave him the old rookie treatment as they sent him onto the ice first for warmups to skate a lap by himself and enjoy the moment.
He took it in stride as he became the first player to wear number 48 since Daniel Briere in 2013. Hey, he might even have better hair than Briere.
Hagg said after the game that he tried to stay as calm as he could, “but at the same time you have to be into the game and play physical that way too.”
He was certainly physical in the second period. Hagg took Sergey Tolchinsky into the boards hard, manhandling him in the corner.
Hagg acknowledged that the speed is much different in the NHL compared to the AHL, but he said he was pretty alert to what was going on out there. “I was trying to play my game and play what I see out there. I’m not like ‘okay I’m going to do like this or that’ I just try to play it how it comes.”
He seemed to be ready in all situations. Hagg was able to pinch at the blue line while taking out a man to open up time and space for his defensive partner.
And he was doing it at the other blue line as well as he kept the puck in the zone with a nifty move.
He was solid in playing his game all night long. In the first period he was put on the penalty kill and didn’t miss a beat.
Hagg blocked a shot, found the puck, and got the transition going the other way. He even got a shot off while shorthanded.
Again in the third period he joined the rush (as he did many times against Carolina), and got a shot off from a similar spot.
Hagg isn’t as big as Sam Morin or as nimble as Shayne Gostisbehere, but he is strong and a good skater as well.
Hagg is happy with the way his defensive game has developed by “trying to simplify” things. “I’ve been working with Kjell [Samuelsson] for years and he’s been on me to improve the small deals basically every day.” He and Kerry Huffman “have had a huge part” in Hagg’s development.
The Flyers will have a few roster spots open for rookie defensemen in training camp, and Hagg knows that this experience could give him a leg up on the competition. “I know how it feels to be out there,” he said. He knows the speed of the game, the players’ strength, and has three AHL seasons under his belt.
Hagg, Morin, Travis Sanheim, and Philippe Myers will all be in training camp looking for a roster spot. From a pure skill, or “ceiling” standpoint, it would seem that Sanheim and Myers should make the cut. However, the Flyers have been preaching patience and we’ve gotten a peek at that during the last week of the season.
It seems that right now both Morin and Hagg are ahead of the field as Sanheim, although he has impressed, is in just his first professional season, and Myers is just finishing up his final season of junior hockey.
Pencilling in Hagg and Morin alongside the rest of the Flyers blueliners in your early 2017-18 roster predictions seems like the safest bet. But that is still months away, and things can change in an instant.
For now, I leave you with one last look at Robert Hagg’s luscious locks.
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