By Kevin Fortier (@ksfortier)
Professional hockey is almost upon us and the Flyers are expected to have a substantial infusion of new blood in their lineup. Two of those openings are on the Flyers blueline where rookies are to battle for positions. One of those young defensemen expected to make a serious push for a roster spot is Swedish blueliner Robert Hagg.
Weight: 205 pounds
Draft: 2013 Round 2 – 41st Philadelphia Flyers
Hometown: Uppsala, SWE
2017 Stats: Games: 58 Goals: 7 Assists: 8 Points: 15 +/-: +10
2016 Stats: Games: 65 Goals: 5 Assists: 6 Points: 11 +/-: -11
- Three-time player Team Sweden at IIHF WJC U20 Tournament:
- 2012/13 – Silver Medal
- 2013/14 – Silver Medal
- 2014/15 – Rated top 3 players team Sweden
- Silver Medal Swedish U16, J18 & J20 SM
- Most points by Defenseman U16 & U17 SM
- Best Defenseman U16 & J20 SM
Hagg was ranked as high as 21st overall in his draft year by Future Considerations. Some at the time of the draft commented that Hagg was the more complete defenseman than 1st round selection Sam Morin (they had Morin ranked 35th). Across the board, he was very highly thought of with the only question being occasional mental lapses.
Hagg came up in the Swedish leagues gaining attention and success from an early age. He won multiple medals and awards as a teenager. Playing at that level was a major reason why he was so highly regarded going into his draft year. As an 18 – 19-year-old he was playing against men and growing in talent and stature internationally.
Hagg’s first year in the Flyers organization was pretty much as expected. He had a quiet, but solid year. He did not tally up the offensive numbers he saw in Sweden, but that is typical for a teenager transitioning to the North American system.
In his second year with the Phantoms, the issue of mental lapses came to the forefront as he struggled to focus and push himself at times and was scratched a handful of games. He turned it around in the final 10 or so games and looked like the complete defenseman who could play in various situations and was sound in his own end of the ice. He picked up where he left off last season and played well all year. He had respectable offensive production tallying seven goals and 15 points in 58 games, but he was much more reliable in the defensive zone going from -11 the prior year to +10.
His improved play caught the attention of Flyers GM Ron Hextall.
“He came over as a 19-year-old, played up in Glens Falls in the American League and, at age 19, held his own. As a 20-year-old he was not bad. And this year he’s taken it to another level. He’s an all-situation, very dependable player.” (Ron Hextall via NHL.Com)
Hagg made his NHL debut April 9th against Carolina in a 4-3 loss, but Hagg displayed why many said he was NHL ready that spring. He played over 21 minutes and looked like he belonged on the ice with his Flyers teammates.
NBC analyst Bob McKenzie called Hagg the most NHL ready defensive prospect in the Flyers system.
“Robert Hagg is probably NHL-ready now,” McKenzie said, “he’s a guy that you could drop into your lineup right now and delete one of the other guys and probably not suffer too much.” (Bob McKenzie NBCSN Jan 25, 2017)
All indications point to Hagg and Morin having the best chances of breaking into the roster this season. Players such as Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers certainly have higher ceilings and all around talent, but having three years of professional experience as a young player provides a significant advantage.
Myers is only 20 with no professional game experience and he missed half of last season with concussions. He was very impressive in camp last year, but he would really have to stand above and beyond to argue he would not benefit from time with the Phantoms.
There is little question he would crack the roster next year and could very well be a call-up with injuries this season, but having zero professional experience works against him making the roster out of camp.
Travis Sanheim stands to be the first call-up if he does not make the team. He has a full year of AHL experience and is very impressive. He had solid offensive numbers and played very well from early December on last season after struggling early.
He would also certainly benefit from more time in the AHL. He is 21 and still gaining strength while adding muscle to his lanky frame. While he played well last season, he did not dominate. He was also playing on the second pairing. Another season to hone his game while playing top pair minutes against the best opposing players would only improve his game.
It would also be great to see him and Myers paired together. Myers being a RHD would make them a deadly combination and fun to watch.
Hagg has all of that experience and growth under his belt. He is solid in all aspects of his game. He is versatile and dependable. He can play on the penalty kill and the second power play unit if needed. He is poised in his own end and is a smooth skater who looks to transition quickly. He has a good first pass or can skate the puck out of the zone.
He should be a good 3rd pair defenseman for the Flyers this season and beyond. When Myers and Sanheim are ready they will leap frog Hagg as guys like MacDonald are moved out.
My pairings for the Flyers:
Photo courtesy of CSNPhilly