Hagg out to show he should stay in top six

De­fense­man wants to be part of reg­u­lar ro­ta­tion

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Wayne Fish

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 [27]. 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.’’

BRUCE BEN­NETT/GETTY

Philadel­phia’s Robert Hagg checks New York Is­lan­der Parker Wother­spoon on Tues­day dur­ing the first pe­riod of a pre­sea­son game in Uniondale, N.Y.

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