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Hagelin thriving for Penguins in playoffs

Speedy forward contributing at each end of the ice

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

TAMPA -- There was a time during his tenure with the New York Rangers that it appeared left wing Carl Hagelin was being typecast as a remarkably fast checker and penalty killer, a defensive specialist so to speak who didn't have much in the way of a consistent offensive game.

It might even be part of the reason why the Rangers didn't think he was worth the four-year, $16 million contract he got from the Anaheim Ducks last summer, after the Rangers traded him there for Emerson Etem, who didn't make it through the season in New York.

Delete that narrative. Hagelin has been proving since he got to the Pittsburgh Penguins in January that his offensive game has spark. He's lighting it up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on arguably the best line going in the NHL with center Nick Bonino and right wing Phil Kessel.

Hagelin had a goal and an assist in Pittsburgh's 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday at Amalie Arena. The Penguins have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 4 is here Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Hagelin has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 14 playoff games. He had five points in 19 playoff games with the Rangers last year and 12 points in 25 playoff games with New York in 2014.

Video: Hagelin talks to the media after Game 3

Even though his line is technically considered Pittsburgh's third line, Hagelin's role is to create offense with his speed. It's given him a different perspective on the game and his role.

"You get that confidence offensively and you're feeling that you can create chances every shift and you can hold onto pucks a little bit more and make plays," Hagelin said. "I wouldn't say I'm an offensive player now. I try to go out there in whatever spot the coach puts me in, I try to make the most out of it. Playing with those two [Bonino and Kessel], I know I'm going to get some chances every game and if I use my skates I'm going to give them a couple chances. That's my focus."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was banking on this kind of production from Hagelin when Pittsburgh acquired him on Jan. 16. Sullivan was an assistant coach for the Rangers in Hagelin's first two seasons and felt he had offense in his game and the hockey IQ to make it work.

"I saw that early on when I coached him [in New York]," Sullivan said. "I knew he would bring that to our team here, and he has."

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Hagelin nets rebound to give Pens lead

Hagelin did produce in those first two seasons with Sullivan behind New York's bench, scoring 62 points in 112 games for an average of 0.55 points per game. He dipped to 0.44 points per game (68 points in 154 games) in the next two seasons, both under Rangers coach Alain Vigneault.

Hagelin's production waned in Anaheim too; he had 12 points in 43 games before the trade, but Sullivan got him back in Pittsburgh, put him with offensive players, first Evgeni Malkin and then Kessel, and his production has soared.

He had 27 points in 37 regular-season games with Pittsburgh before starting to score at nearly a point-per-game pace in the playoffs.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Kessel doubles lead on Bonino's dish

"Obviously his ultimate competitive advantage is his foot speed," Sullivan said. "He chases pucks down and forces turnovers and creates a lot of opportunity for his line through that foot speed. But what I really have always liked about him is his hockey sense is very underrated. That's, in my opinion, what allows him to play with top players. He has the hockey sense and the vision and the awareness to make that next play. That's so important to creating an opportunity for his line."

But the beauty of what Hagelin has done for Pittsburgh is he hasn't strayed from his core defensive principles. He's not sacrificing his defense to fuel his offense; it's quite the opposite, in fact.

The perfect example came late in the first period of Game 3, when Hagelin basically killed the first 30 seconds of Pittsburgh's first penalty kill single-handedly with his speed.

"Ever since I got in the League, I've played PK and that's been one of my jobs," Hagelin said. "In the playoffs, there are not going to be many power plays for each team and you've gotta do whatever you can to kill it off."

The point is that Hagelin's M.O. hasn't changed because he's still as defensively responsible as ever. But now that he's been given a chance to shine in an offensive role, he's thriving and changing the narrative that once followed him around, and likely out of New York.

"That's just a good 200-foot player," Bonino said.

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