Ask any guy in the Pens locker room how happy they are to have Carl Hagelin as a teammate, and they’ll immediately start smiling.
Granted, they were already thrilled to have him on their team regardless. But now that their First Round matchup with the New York Rangers is official, the Pens are especially glad the former Blueshirt has switched sides and will be competing for them this time – considering what happened in their series last year.
“As far as OT winners go, I’m glad he’s on our team now because I was getting really sick of watching Hagelin score OT winners and getting dogpiled on in the slot,” joked defenseman Ian Cole.
That series-clinching goal in Game 5 – one of six playoff points Hagelin recorded in 12 career playoff games against the Pens over the past two seasons – is certainly one the guys won’t forget, and one that earned him a lot of grief when he first joined the team.
Now, Hagelin will receive grief from his former teammates in New York as he gets set to face them for the first time in a playoff setting.
Hagelin still has a lot of friends over in that other locker room. He’s closest with Henrik Lundqvist, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Ryan McDonagh, but said he’s not speaking to any of them right now as he prepares to experience this rivalry from a different perspective.
He’s focused on just one thing.
“I’ll be out there playing as hard as I can for the Pittsburgh Penguins and that’s my only focus,” Hagelin said.
“Just like any other guy on this team, I think we’re a confident group. Just excited to get the playoffs going, that’s the most fun hockey you can play. You know every player you play against is going to bring his A-game, so you’ve got to make sure you match that.”
The deal that brought Hagelin to Pittsburgh – after spending the first four years of his career with the Rangers before they traded him to Anaheim this past summer – couldn’t have worked out more perfectly for the Pens.
As head coach Mike Sullivan said this afternoon, Hagelin’s performance on the ice speaks for itself. The 27-year-old winger made a huge impact on the scoresheet, producing 27 points (10G-17A) in 37 games following his acquisition – including 19 in his last 21.
As the Pens knew from playing against Hagelin so many times, he’s proven to be a clutch player throughout his career and he continued to be one in Pittsburgh – scoring 6 game-winning goals for the team, the most ever by an in-season acquisition in franchise history.
But it’s not Hagelin’s numbers that have been his biggest contribution to this team – it’s his skating.
The Swede is one of the fastest players in the entire NHL and he has completely changed the dynamic of the Pens. Sullivan has taught his team to play a speed game, and Hagelin has been the most crucial factor to that component of their identity.
“He’s obviously contributed so much to this team over the course of his tenure here post trade,” Cole said. “He’s a fantastic player and his speed really, really adds a lot to this team.”
Hagelin’s skill sets are in line with the identity of the group and how they want to play, while his personality allowed him to fit right in with the team’s chemistry.
Sullivan has known Hagelin for a while now, as he coached him for two seasons in New York as an assistant coach under John Tortorella. And Sullivan doesn’t just admire Hagelin as a player – he feels just as strongly about him as a person.
“He’s just a terrific guy,” Sullivan said. “He’s a good teammate. He’s a good person. He’s very low maintenance. He just comes to the rink every day and he works hard. That’s what I love about him.
“He’s a real good player. He’s a very good person. He’s really fit in our dressing room really well.”