For a supposedly casual guy, Robert Hagg found his first 10 games in North America last spring at Adirondack intensely invigorating.
“It is more fun to play here than in Sweden,” he says. “You can grab the forwards much easier in the corner.
“It’s much more physical. Plus, you can make one good pass and have a good scoring chance. In Sweden it takes four or five passes. The smaller ice makes the game a little bit faster.
“You have to more fully concentrate on every shift. There is going to be a goal (against) if you are going to just skate around out there ”
Robert Hagg lasted until the 41st pick of the 2013 draft because a lot of talent evaluators thought he was content to just skate around out there. The Flyers took him anyway, because, well, he skates pretty well out there and they believe characterizations of him as lazy remain lazy.
“I don’t want to say it comes easy for Robert, but he gives you that appearance of casualness and I think that can be misunderstood sometimes,” said Chris Pryor, the Flyers Director of Scouting at Development Camp in the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees.
“He gets the puck and makes a play. There is not a lot of stress in his game and sometimes that is misunderstood as not competing. Robert thinks the game and lets the puck do the work.”
In today’s NHL, where quickness in the defensive zone trumps physicality, letting the puck do the work, increasingly works. That’s why the Flyers felt they had to add Mark Streit, not let Andrew MacDonald get out onto the open market: and also why Shayne Gostisbehere, who is only 5-11, nevertheless is their most exciting blueline prospect since Joni Pitkanen was drafted fourth overall in 2002.
Unlike Gostisbehere, Hagg (pronounced Heyg) hasn’t been the Most Valuable Player in any Frozen Fours, but he has played in two World Junior Tournaments.
A serious prospect, his chances of making it eventually hinge on how seriously he competes. In the 10-game sample with Phantoms at the end of last season, not only did the North American game make a favorable impression on Hagg, but he made a favorable impression on it, too.
“He played like a really well-rounded defenseman,” said Terry Murray, who coached Hagg at Adirondack and will again this season as the Flyers move the team to the Lehigh Valley. “He showed a good defensive stick and reads the play well while showing good strength.
“He made a lot of good plays, not flashy, just efficient.”
It’s not complicated. The simpler Hagg keeps it, the more effortless will become GM Ron Hextall’s decisions in making the Flyers’ defense younger and quicker in coming years.
“If I have a forward in front of me, give him the puck and follow up after," said Hagg. “Don’t try to skate it up and dangle one-two guys and then make a pass.
“Give the forward the pass and then skate up to support him.”
Often it takes years for young defensemen to realize that less is more, why they don’t often mature until age 27 or 28. This kid, who played in the Swedish Elite League at age 19, seems to already get it.
“I need more consistency, that’s what everybody says about me,” Hagg says. “Well, I agree with that.”