Never bet against bloodlines.
That’s the early line on Niklas Hagman, a free agent left-winger signed by the Leafs on the first day of free agency.
Hagman scored 27 goals for the Dallas Stars last year, but with an abundance of talent on the left side, the Stars were content to let him find a new home.
That proved to be with the Leafs who offered a four-year-deal for a speedy, grinding player who competes every game and can bolster the penalty kill and even the power play.
Convinced by his longtime friend Vesa Toskala that Toronto would be a good fit, Hagman is used to the public eye. His father Matti was known as the Wayne Gretzky of Finnish hockey. He even briefly played in Edmonton when Niklas was a year-old. A number of relatives on his mother’s side have performed well in track and field as well as soccer. That begged the question, among others, from mapleleafs.com's Mike Ulmer: is athletic ability a question of nature or nurture?Ulmer:
What are the one or two parts of your Dad’s game you wish you inherited? Hagman:
Hockey vision and passing ability. He was a tremendous face-off guy and he played centre so he had good hockey sense. He was a tremendous passer.Ulmer:
What’s more fun, scoring a goal or setting one up?
Probably scoring a goal.Ulmer:
Do you remember your first meaningful goal as a kid?
I can’t remember the ones from that long goal ago, but I remember the one that won us the World Junior Hockey Championships in Helsinki in 1998. I scored an overtime goal against Russia. We were the host team and we won the whole thing.Ulmer:
You have great athletic bloodlines on both sides of your family. Is athletic ability something parents pass on to their children by modeling or is it something innately in some families and not in others..
I think it’s a bit of both. For me, I was one of those players’ kids who were always at the rink. I always wanted to practice, always wanted to play. I all but grew up at the rink so I knew I wanted to be a hockey player. We’ve always had so much sports in our family. I’ve only got a couple of cousins who maybe haven’t done much in sports. Maybe it is the genes. Ulmer:
You have played every game over the last two years which is unusual. Do you do anything special?
Well, I try to keep my head up (laughs). I always try to keep myself in good shape. I do stretch every now and then. I know a lot of hockey players who don’t stretch. I think a big part of it is luck. I haven’t had any major injuries that have kept me out of games. I try to give everything I have every game.Ulmer:
You’ve scored a lot of highlight goals. Do you ever go on YouTube and look at your own goals?
Yes, but usually I’m with a buddy or something. I don’t search myself but I see my goals every now and then.Ulmer:
You can go three weeks without seeing the sun in a Helsinki winter. How did you cope with the lack of sun in the winter?
During the summer, the sun doesn’t go down. We get so much during the summer but I know it’s tough during the winter. When I played up North it was dark when I went to the rink and dark when I left. It’s just something you’ve got to live with. It’s also something you have to live with when it’s bright at night and you have a hard time sleeping.Ulmer:
Do you have a hard time sleeping in the summer because of the constant light?
No, we have very good blinds. I have a 16-month old son and we have to make sure it’s not too light for him. We really invested in the blinds.Ulmer:
In Dallas, they had the show Dallas and the actor who played J.R. was named Larry Hagman. How many times did you hear about your name in Dallas?
Really, a lot of times. The Dallas Stars travel person always called me Larry. When I scored my first NHL goal, seven years ago, on ESPN they showed the highlights of the game and they said ‘Hagman scored’ and then they played a little clip from Dallas.