Hagg out to show he should stay in top six
Defenseman wants to be part of regular rotation
UNIONDALE, NY — Robert Hagg may have led the Flyers both in hits and blocked shots last season, but that doesn’t mean he’s a leader for one of the six top spots on the team’s defense corps this season.
That’s because the Flyers brought in two proven veterans (Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun) during the offseason, plus there are serious challenges being mounted by Philippe Myers and Samuel Morin.
Ever the cool customer, Hagg doesn’t seem too concerned with his current standing.
He went about his business in Tuesday night’s 3-2 OT loss to the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. New York won it with 52.3 seconds to play on a goal by Mason Jobst.
“It’s like every other [training] camp, you have to prove yourself,’’ the 24-yearold Swede said. “Prove to your teammates, prove to the coaching staff and management that you deserve one of the top six [or] seven spots.
“It’s a different camp this year, there’s a new coaching staff. Everybody has to start from scratch to show what kind of player you are out there.’’
A camp like this can provide extra motivation because there are so many jobs on the line.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “You know you have to go out there and give it your all. I mean it’s fun, it’s a challenge.’’
At 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, Hagg has the size to clear the crease, plus he has a
knack for getting in front of flying pucks. Even though he plays a physical style, he was one of only six Flyers to play in all 82 games last season.
“I think it was a step in the right direction for me,’’ he said. “But I want to be more consistent. I want to build my game even more. I take pride in playing every game, even if you’re a little banged up.
“I like blocking shots and giving energy to the team. It’s kind of the role I have and I want to keep doing that.’’
In Tuesday night’s game, Carter Hart started in goal for the Flyers and kept the Islanders off the board for 32 minutes until he was replaced by J-F Berube for the second half of the game.
Michael Raffl scored at 3:30 of the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. New York tied the score at 6:52 of the third on a goal by Derick Brassard.
Then Maksim Sushko scored off a deflection of a screened shot from the point at 8:23 to put Philly in front, 2-1. But the Islanders pulled their goalie for a sixth attacker and tied it again with 1:34 to play on a goal by Jordan Eberle.
Hayes’ past history with Vigneault helps transition: Any hockey coach will tell you that after goaltending, strength down the middle just might be the second-most important element to a team’s success.
Recognizing this, the Flyers made pending free-agent center Kevin Hayes their No. 1 priority in the offseason.
General manager Chuck Fletcher pulled off a trade with the Winnipeg Jets to acquire the negotiating rights to Hayes, who wound up signing a seven-year, $50-million before the July 1 start of free agency.
Now, with Sean Couturier in the No. 1 slot, Hayes at No. 2 and third-year pivot Nolan Patrick at No. 3, the Flyers believe they have enough firepower to get the job done.
On top of that, when Hayes began his career with the New York Rangers, he played four years under coach Alain Vigneault, who now runs the Flyers’ bench.
So it should be a good fit.
“It’s funny,’’ Hayes said. “Watching him [Vigneault] before a practice, the way he goes over the drills. It’s the same routine I went through for four years back when I was a rookie.
“I started chuckling to myself a couple times. It’s old stuff but with a new team. It’s relieving to kind of be comfortable with the coach as soon as possible.’’
It’s no secret, when the veterans heard Hayes was signing with the Flyers, a number of them grilled him to gather a scouting report on the coach’s likes and dislikes.
“As soon as I signed I was getting text messages,’’ Hayes said. “I’m an older guy now, kind of . I tried to explain to the young guys how quick the drills go, from one drill to another. He likes to keep the practice short, but the pace up.’’
Early in the preseason, it looks like Hayes and James van Riemsdyk will be a match for a while.
On Monday night against the Islanders in Philadelphia, Jake Voracek played the right side with that unit.
“Any center would be excited about playing with those two guys, they’re elite players,’’ Hayes said. “We’re big bodies so it’s hard to take the puck from us.’’
Philadelphia’s Robert Hagg checks New York Islander Parker Wotherspoon on Tuesday during the first period of a preseason game in Uniondale, N.Y.