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Wagner Hopes to be a Hit with Islanders

Physical forward excited to help Islanders fight for playoff spot

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

When Chris Wagner thinks about players he's modeled his game after, Cal Clutterbuck is on a short list of the names that come to mind. 

A quick look at the NHL hits leaderboard and it's easy to see where Clutterbuck has left a mark on Wagner - though thankfully not a physical one. 

Wagner, whom the Islanders acquired Monday in exchange for Jason Chimera, is second in the NHL this season with 212 hits. Clutterbuck, who led the league in 2010-11 and owns four of the 20 most prolific-hitting seasons, is fifth this year with 185. Clutterbuck was also one of the first Islanders to send a welcome text to Wagner. 

"I try to be as hard working as possible every shift that I'm on the ice," Wagner said when describing his game. "Definitely a physical player, not really a big guy, but try to play bigger than I am. Obviously try to chip in on offense now and then. I think I've developed my penalty kill role throughout the pros." 

For an Islander team looking to add depth to the bottom six, a physical player who's played center and wing fits the bill. 

"He's intense. Skates well and a right-handed shot who plays all three positions at forward. He's fiesty, he's energetic, he's a heck of a player," Head Coach Doug Weight said. "With the fit of our team I think our team got better today for that reason." 

"I'm excited for the new opportunity," Wagner said. "They're a team fighting to make the playoffs and hopefully I can be a difference maker and push the team over the edge."

This has been a breakthrough year for Wagner, who appeared in all 64 games for Anaheim this season after topping out at 43 games in each of the last two years. He's also set career-highs in assists (9), points (15) and has tied his career-high in goals (6). 

"I played shutdown center for about two months here when Ryan Kesler was out and that kind of helped me get some confidence and play with the puck more, play in some situations I hadn't been in, in the NHL," Wagner said. "I think I did pretty well during that time and since then I've tried to keep that confidence up." 

Wagner has been in the Ducks organization since being drafted in the fifth round in 2010. His lone connection was meeting John Tavares at Colin McDonald's wedding over the summer and the Isles captain reached out to welcome him Monday. 

"It's always nice when the guys reach out to you because you're going into a new situation and you've been in another situation for so long," Wagner said. "That means a lot."

The Walpole, MA, native has lived out west full time since the Ducks moved their AHL affiliate to San Diego in 2015, only leaving the coast for a 26-game stint with the Colorado Avalanche, who claimed him off waivers in 2015. His trade to the Islanders means he's moving a lot closer to home. 

"Pretty much every family member texted me and they're pumped they don't have to stay up till 1 o clock to watch games anymore," Wagner said. "The people around me are definitely happy to see me come back out east and so am I."

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