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Promising Hagelin kept a promise to self

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Carl Hagelin (LW)
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By Dan David,

Former Rangers star Anders Hedberg, now the Blueshirts Head Professional Scout-Europe, was among the pioneering Swedish hockey players of the mid-1970’s who left home to prove themselves in the North American pro game -- thus paving the way for generations of Swedes to rise to prominence in the NHL.

Given his place in the game’s history, when Hedberg goes out of his way to note the trail-blazing nature of another Swede, it means a lot. Hedberg did just that recently -- during a conversation about some of the Rangers' European prospects -- but he was talking about a player who hadn't even spent the past few seasons in Europe.

When the name Carl Hagelin came up in passing, Hedberg dropped the subject at hand and turned his focus to the 22-year-old former University of Michigan forward who will begin his first professional season in the Rangers organization this fall.

"Hagelin became the captain of Michigan, and I have to say that is very impressive," said Hedberg. "The character and personality that shows is so important. A Swedish kid goes to Michigan, which is a huge American athletic institution, and they pick that Swedish kid as their captain. That tells you a lot of things. He should be incredibly proud of that, and I have to say that as a Swedish person, I am, too."

If anyone deserves a Swedish hockey legend's praise, it is Hagelin, the Rangers' 2007 sixth-round draft pick who diligently worked his way to becoming one of college hockey's top players.

Four years later, it seems almost incredible that the Rangers were able to land a talented forward like Hagelin 168th overall in an NHL Entry Draft. Only the second European player ever to join the University of Michigan's hockey program, he was the first to make it through all four years of his eligibility. He also made history as the Wolverines' first European captain (one of two co-captains) and led the school all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four title game, where Michigan fell to Minnesota-Duluth in a 3-2 overtime, heart-breaker on April 9.

Carl Hagelin's exceptional speed and commitment to strong play at both ends of the ice are traits that suggest he can have a long and productive career at hockey's highest level as a full-time NHL player.
"An unbelievable season," Hagelin said of the past year. "We didn't play that well in a lot of games, but we found a way to win. ... Making it all the way to the Frozen Four -- the final game -- and then losing in overtime was obviously tough, but then looking back at it we realized what we had done. We had so many people calling us -- old Michigan guys that play in the NHL now called us up to say good luck and to let us know how they were rooting for us. It was all very nice, and we realized just how big the Michigan family really is."

It was truly a senior year to remember for Hagelin, who paced Michigan in all offensive categories with 18 goals, 31 assists, 49 points, 158 shots on goal, a plus-21 rating, seven power-play goals, and 15 multi-point games in 2010-11. His 49 points -- one short of the career-high he set as a junior --ranked fourth in the CCHA and tied him for 14th in the nation in scoring. He also finished third in the CCHA and tied for 17th in the nation in assists.

Hagelin put up points in some of the season's biggest games, including a two-goal effort in the outdoor "Big Chill" game vs. Michigan State in front of 113,411 fans at Michigan Stadium on Dec. 11; a three-assist night in the championship game of the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena; and the OT game-winner on Michigan's Senior Night. He had a six-game scoring streak in November and a nine-game scoring streak in December and January.

As a junior, he had a career-high 11-game run of points in 2009-10, which is among the longest streaks of any Michigan player over the past 10 years. That helped set the stage for his bigger role in 2010-11.

"When I got named captain of the team it was obviously a great honor," he said. "There have been so many good captains throughout the years that have played for Michigan, so I knew it was really special. It was the guys on the team who named me captain, which made it even more special. “

Hagelin was selected as one of the game's top three stars 10 times in 2010-11, and Michigan went 23-2-3 when he registered a point. When he didn't crack the scoresheet, the high-powered Wolverines were just 5-5-4.

"He's an elite skater," Jeff Gorton, the Rangers' Assistant Director, Player Personnel, said of Hagelin. "He's evolved from maybe what people thought of as a role-type player to a guy that's shown some skill and been very productive at the college level with speed and tenacity.”

Hagelin collected accolades like they were going out of style in 2010-11. He was named the CCHA's Best Defensive Forward and was a finalist for CCHA Player of the Year. He made the All-Conference First Team and the Great Lakes Invitational All-Tournament Team and was CCHA Offensive Player of the Week for the weeks ending Jan. 24 and Feb. 21. He also won the Hal Downes Award as Michigan MVP for a second straight season.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Hagelin's final season of college hockey was how it capped off a stunning four-year maturation process. After picking up 24 goals and 43 points in 82 games over his first two seasons at Michigan, he erupted for 37 goals and 99 points in 89 games over his final two seasons.

Three days after the NCAA title-game loss to Minnesota-Duluth, Hagelin was in Hartford, Conn., preparing for the AHL Calder Cup playoffs with the Connecticut Whale. He agreed to terms on his first NHL contract that week and went on to play in five postseason games -- scoring his first goal at the professional level in the series-ending Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Portland. He also had an assist in Game 5.

Rangers prospect Carl Hagelin and his University of Michigan teammates went all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four title game in 2011 before losing to Minnesota-Duluth 3-2 in overtime at St. Paul, Minn.
"When I got the chance to play more and more there, I started to feel more comfortable, and then realized that it's not that much harder compared to college hockey," Hagelin said of the AHL. "I realized I can hold onto the puck a bit more than I did. It did give me a lot to think about over the summer -- what to work on and what I need to keep working on to be successful there. It was a great time over those five games there, and it was good to meet the guys and the coaches.”

The keys to Hagelin's pro future are his speed and two-way play. These factors make him a very strong NHL prospect even though he flew under the radar in his early years. Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, remembers that Hagelin was "very thin" in his draft year and when he first got to Michigan. He left Michigan as the best-conditioned athlete in the Wolverines' hockey program, finishing atop the fitness testing results in each of the past two years.

Hagelin was 5-foot-11 and 176 pounds on his draft day in 2007, but was listed at 6-0 and 190 pounds at the start of his senior year with the Wolverines.

"He worked on that (conditioning) every year, and now he is ready to give the pro game a crack," Clark said. "His body had to be built up, and he understood that as a player. He's going to have to get stronger still to play against NHL men, and I think he's smart enough to know that."

Whale head coach Ken Gernander, said that fitness was the first thing he noticed about Hagelin once he arrived in the AHL.

"You could tell that he was in great shape as far as his conditioning goes, and his skating and his conditioning will allow him to play at a very high level," Gernander said. "... His defensive game is very strong. He knows that that's his forte, and I think he's a player that likes to play a defensive game. Some guys will do just enough to allow them to get ice time and play offensively, but I think he kind of relishes the role of being a two-way player. … Each game that we had him, I got more and more comfortable using him. With an expanded role, I think he had more and more success."

Hagelin's hockey resume grew by leaps and bounds this past season, but so did his off-ice achievements. An outstanding student and the top scholar-athlete in the Michigan hockey program, Hagelin won his second straight Isaacson Award as the Wolverines' "Best in Classroom" while completing his major in Sport Management. He also made the CCHA Scholar-Athlete Team for the third straight year, and was the men's winner of Michigan's Big Ten Medal of Honor -- an award honoring each Big Ten School's highest achiever in both academics and sports.

From the moment he entered college, posting a strong GPA was just as important to Hagelin as any hockey statistic.  Although some NHL prospects leave college ahead of schedule to turn pro, Hagelin can't help but laugh when asked if he ever considered that before completing his four-year degree.

"The reason I came over was to get my degree as well, so my dad would never have let me leave anyway," said Hagelin. "For me, the plan was always to stay."

The fact is that Hagelin's bright future as a player in the Rangers organization is eclipsed only by his remarkable commitment to being well-rounded, and his life to date has been shaped by a strong family, a lifelong belief in hard work and a tremendous love for hockey.

Growing up in Sodertalje, Hagelin was surrounded by athletics. His father, Boris, had been a member of Sweden's national golf team. His sister played Division-III golf and basketball and was on Sweden's junior national hoops team, and his older brother Bobbie, now 27, starred for Sodertalje's Under-20 team before reaching the Elitserien for a brief pro hockey career that began in 2003-04.

The Swedish team featuring a young Peter Forsberg won the Olympic gold medal in 1994 when Hagelin was five years old, and as Forsberg developed into an NHL star, Hagelin followed his career in earnest.

"I didn't like the Red Wings back then, even though they had a lot of Swedes and my dad loved the Wings," Hagelin recalled. "I loved Colorado because Peter Forsberg played there.”

Just days after his NCAA career at Michigan ended, Carl Hagelin was playing for the Connecticut Whale in Round 1 of the AHL Calder Cup playoffs. He scored a goal in the team's final postseason game.
Hagelin was so determined to view NHL games as a boy that he would adjust his sleep cycles just to see them live. The Hagelins and a neighboring family with a son his age both paid for a channel that carried the NHL on a nightly basis, but the Avalanche games often didn't start before 3 a.m. in Sweden. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, Hagelin and his young friend would go to bed at 10 p.m. and sleep until 3 a.m. They would then meet at one of their houses and watch their hero Forsberg together while all the other kids on their street were still in dreamland.

As a 16-year-old in 2004-05, Hagelin made Sodertalje's Under18 junior team and scored 17 points in only 14 regular-season games. The next year, he joined the Under-20 squad, scoring 20 goals and 20 assists in 41 games. As he approached his NHL draft year -- the 2006-07 season -- Hagelin already knew where his career path would take him, and his father had helped him make the decision.

"It was a no-brainer for me to come to the U.S. and get a degree at the same time as I played hockey at a high level," Hagelin said. "I also knew there were a lot of good players that came through the Michigan program, so I was going to get a great education and great hockey at the same time. Looking back, I made the right decision."

During his own years as a student at Western Michigan University, Carl's father had become a big fan of the Wolverines' hockey program and continued to follow the team after the legendary Red Berenson took over as head coach in 1984. Back in Sweden, Boris would talk to Carl about the possibility of attending college in the U.S. as he had done, and when Carl was only 11, he and Bobbie were sent to Red Berenson's hockey camp in Ann Arbor -- hardly a typical summer destination for two Swedish boys.

The affinity for Michigan was strong by the time Carl, a self-professed "late bloomer", entered his draft year, which saw him score 24 goals and 55 points for the Sodertalje Under-20 team. Those numbers helped him earn invitations to tryouts for the national junior team.

"I wasn't supposed to even be at those tryouts, but some guy got sick, so I was called in," Hagelin recalled. "There were like 40 guys there trying to make the team. I was able to make it, but by the time the NHL draft was about to happen, I think I had talked to one or two NHL scouts, but I didn't really even think I was going to get drafted."

The junior national team brought Hagelin to more scouts' attention, and his strong Under-20 regular season also drew interest from Sodertalje's Elitserien team. Offered a chance to play at Sweden's highest level, the 17-year-old adamantly refused to even practice with the pro team for fear of jeopardizing his NCAA eligibility.

Had he made the jump to the Elitserien in 2006-07, Hagelin might have been a higher NHL draft choice. By staying out of that league, he risked going much lower in the draft, if at all. Clark and his scouting staff knew all about Hagelin's college desires, but they were willing to wait for him to develop while they held his NHL rights.

"I just wanted to go to college and give my best for four years and get a degree. I didn't think too much about getting drafted or anything, but anytime someone shows appreciation for what you do, that's kind of the good feeling you get when someone drafts you,” Hagelin said. "It was a great honor to get drafted by the New York Rangers. It is a great club."

Hagelin is not new to North America, but he is new to life as a Ranger. The Development Camp he attends later this month will be his first at the MSG Training Center -- another indication of just how much Hagelin kept his focus on college hockey over the past four years.

Spending his first two seasons as a role player in Berenson's system, Hagelin gained experience that helped him fully understand the North American game.

"I think for me it just was more about learning backchecking and being on the right side of the puck," Hagelin said of his transition. "And everything was a lot quicker than what I remembered from back home. So it was a mix of all that, and I started thinking a lot more on the ice. But in my sophomore year I got more chances offensively, and the same was true in my junior year and senior year. By then you stop thinking and you just do stuff."

At age 18 Hagelin spoke "OK" English with a thick Swedish accent. He had to adjust to a lot of overnight change, including the way people said his last name. In Sweden, the name is pronounced "Hah-guh-LEEN". At Michigan, he got used to the pronunciation as "HAG-eh-lin", which is what he expects it to be in the pros, too.

When he arrives at the Rangers Development Camp, he will be one of potentially four Swedes in attendance -- perhaps the organization's greatest influx of young Swedish talent since the mid-1980s. He looks forward to meeting Tim Erixon, Jesper Fasth, and Oscar Lindberg, whom he followed in the 2011 World Junior Championship tournament.

“It’s always fun to have your countrymen around you, but I wouldn't even mind if there were only Canadian or American guys around me, because I am so used to it,” Hagelin said.

Perhaps it's ironic that one of the top North American-trained prospects coming into the Rangers organization as a first-year pro this season is a kid who grew up in Sweden, but the young life of Carl Hagelin is hardly typical. His unique career path has helped him develop the type of character that all NHL teams crave and he is the kind of player that is always found on winning teams.

For now, he is very excited with the opportunity to be skating at the MSG Training Center in the next few months and he's determined to take the next phase of his career one step at a time.

"I think my goal is just to come in with an open mind and be ready for whatever happens," he said of training camp. "My goal this summer is just to do everything I can to be prepared and to show the coaches that I want to get up in the NHL one of these days. I think for me, I just have to do my best to skate a lot and do my best defensively, and hopefully, I will get that shot."
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