Hagg Heading in the Right Direction

Friday, December 23, 2016
Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Hextall still preaching patience with 21-year-old Hagg

Written by: Tim Riday - Twitter

What does everyone want to talk about when the conversation turns to prospects in the Philadelphia Flyers’ system?

Yep, you guessed it: Defensemen.

With Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov bursting onto the scene in the NHL, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim bidding their time in the AHL and guys like Reece Willcox, Philippe Myers and Mark Friedman quietly going about their business, it’s been easy to forget about Robert Hagg.

Hagg, a second-round pick (41st overall) by the Flyers in 2013, has had his fair share of ups and downs over his three seasons in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Many pundits and critics have soured on him. As a result, he’s plummeted on depth charts and prospect rankings.

That, of course, means very little to Flyers GM Ron Hextall. His opinion is the only one that really matters after all.

“We have to be really careful trying push the process too fast,” Hextall said during an interview with Phantoms radio broadcaster Bob Rotruck. “Obviously we want to make our young players as good as we can make them as quickly we can make them, but you don't want to become impatient with them. That's the biggest mistake you can make.”

The point Hextall was attempting to get across was that he's not going to give up too soon on the players developing within the organization.

That includes Hagg.

The Swedish blueliner, who will turn just 22 in February, had plenty of struggles in 2015-16. His play was incredibly inconsistent and sat out quite a few games in the press box as a healthy scratch.

The major concern was that, on most nights, Hagg was simply just there. He doesn't own any dominant traits, therefore he won't jump out at you when he's on the ice.

He is generally sound in every aspect of the game - power play and penalty kill included - but he keeps things simple. That's when he's at his best.

The biggest adjustment has been adapting to the North American style of hockey. He's also in his third season with the Phantoms, so he's assumed more responsibility.

What Hextall envisions is Hagg developing into a reliable two-way defender. He's more than capable of playing a pure defensive role and logging big minutes - at even strength and on the PK - but he does have above-average offensive skill.

Hagg has a heavy release and accurate shot from the point and is poised with the puck on his stick. His passing can still be a little sporadic at times and his choppy stride sometimes prevents him from controlling the play on the rush but he normally always makes intelligent decisions.

And the rough stuff? Hagg won't shy away from that. At 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, he has the potential to become a punishing force in front and in the corners.

That's what has been the difference for him in 2016-17. The second he started to throw his body around and engage in puck battles more, he really started to turn a corner.

"He looks for a lot of feedback, he takes the feedback and tries to do something about it, tries to improve part of his game," Hextall said. "The one thing we talked about was that he needed to be more assertive and he was the first one to say he's needs to be more assertive and you have seen that this year. He's been extremely assertive."

The Phantoms have had more of a definitive role for Hagg this season. Fans shouldn't worry that he's been serving as the team's fifth defenseman. He's still logging good ice time and hasn't been missing assignments as often as he was in 2015-16.

Hagg's decision-making on breakouts and vision have improved as well. There is still a ton of potential there.

It's the kind of potential he showcased at the international level. It's important to keep in mind Hagg was tremendous while representing his native country. In 34 career games for Sweden at the junior ranks, he recorded eight goals and 12 assists and helped his teams to two silver medals at the World Junior Championships (2013 and 2014).

Don't give up on him just yet.

Hagg isn't quitting anytime soon and, most importantly, Hextall is seeing major strides in his game.

"He's really taken a step forward this year," Hextall said of Hagg. "The type of step we had kinda hoped he would take last year. He didn't and he stumbled a little bit. The biggest thing about Robert is that he acknowledges his weaknesses and wants to get better."

Edited by: Tony Androckitis


Unknown said...

I wouldn't really say Phil Myers is quietly going about his business, but regardless, it's nice to see Hagg on the upswing

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