This is the first in a multi-part series where I spotlight players we may not talk about as much, but whose contributions are absolutely essential to the success of the Pittsburgh Penguins. From penalty killing dynamos to fancy stats heroes this is where we talk about players not named Crosby, Malkin, or Kessel but make the engine of the Pittsburgh Penguins go.
Carl Hagelin is a fun topic if you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. He used to torment the Penguins as a member of the New York Rangers. His speed on the penalty kill could easily turnstile anyone at the point if he tried hard enough. He ended the Penguins lackluster 2014-2015 campaign with a beautiful overtime goal that gave Penguins fans nightmares heading into the summer. Then just a few short weeks later the New York Rangers made what can’t be understated as the biggest blunder they’ve made in the recent past. They sent Hagelin, who they were worried about paying, to the Anaheim Ducks at the 2015 Entry Draft along with draft picks number 59 and 179. The return? Emerson Etem and the number 41 pick in the draft which they used to take Ryan Gropp.
Hagelin went on to sign a four year/$16M deal with Anaheim with a limited no trade clause that would go into effect in the 2016-2017 season. Then things went a little pear-shaped. A Swedish speed skater by design, number 62 floundered as a sub-6’ player on the lighter side in the heavy Ducks system. He needed a move. He desperately needed a change. Then Jim Rutherford noticed him. He saw the guy was a perfect example of square peg trying to be shoved into a round hole, while Rutherford also knew he had a heavier, methodical style player in David Perron who wasn’t excelling in the faster pace the Penguins were trying to play at. The deal was made and that was pretty much it.
Hagelin’s speed became an immediate factor and when he and Kessel were united with Nick Bonino it was lights out. The HBK line became a cult phenomena, but even more they became arguably the team’s most exciting group (hard to pick between them and the Crosby line last spring in a lot of ways).
But the thing is, Hagelin doesn’t get enough credit for what his individual addition has brought to the Penguins team beyond the HBK line. He and Kris Letang, another top-flight speedster, formed a quick bond that goes from the ice on the PK to the locker room and beyond. Meanwhile, Patric Hornqvist was documented by Jim Rutherford’s Player’s Tribune article as having come into practice the day after Hagelin was acquired and asking his general manager if he was aware that Hagelin was Hornqvist’s best friend. The two, who live near each other and practice together in the off-season, even spent parts of both of their Cup days (back-to-back, of course) together in their native Sweden.
He’s an integral part of the glue that’s kept this locker room close despite opening the season without their captain and playoffs MVP.
And then there’s on the ice. His speed can completely change a game, shifting any momentum purely by his foot speed. Watching him turn on the afterburners as he is heading down the ice to negate an icing will never stop being a thing of beauty. And he doesn’t discriminate when he’s going for it. He’s going for it in the middle of a blow out in February, he’s going for it in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, he’s going for it in the second game of a season.
It’s something we all take for granted now that it’s there, but he’s most teams worst nightmare and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what he does. With the Penguins last year he racked up 10 G–17 A– 27 P. That doesn’t seem like too much until you remember he did it in 37 games after the trade that brought him there and it took him a while to get going. The post season was when he and his HBK linemates did their real damage. His 6 G–10 A– 16 P in 24 games played was a career high in playoff points, good for fourth most on the Stanley Cup Champs, in one less game than he played in the 2014 playoffs when the Rangers lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Kings. He even had the game winning goal in the Penguins Game 3 win over the Washington Capitals to give them the lead in that tough series.
Because Hagelin doesn’t score in bunches or light the lamp so much (you worry the light bulb in it might need changed), it’s easy to kind of discount his usefulness. But there is no discounting what the speed he has brings to a team built on their ability to move quickly. When the Penguins line-up in the pre-season had everyone but Hagelin and Crosby, Crosby was the biggest loss for his ability to give everyone else their best matchups, to say nothing of the fact that when you don’t have Sidney Crosby, you don’t have Sidney Crosby. But it was Hagelin’s speed on the PK and even strength plays that was most noticeable on a shift by shift basis.
We may not talk about him a lot, but Carl Hagelin is definitely one of the keys to the Penguins’ success.