‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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It’s clear that Carl Hagelin can be a difference-maker for a Rangers team that has struggled to climb above the .500 mark.
The 25-year-old Swede possesses a rare jet-like speed that forces opponents into making mistakes and frees open ice for teammates.
On top of that, Hagelin is a very competent player in all areas of the ice and is both a heady and feisty individual. Hagelin has all the attributes of a top-six forward, yet for two straight games he’s found himself starting games on fourth-line duty alongside Brian Boyle and Arron Asham.
Hagelin is a player whom head coach Alain Vigneault should be leaning on to pull the Rangers out of the muck. Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Penguins was probably the most encouraging game the Blueshirts have played in a very long time.
“Overall, a great job by the guys to come all the way back,” Hagelin said. “We showed a lot of character. It’s good (momentum) moving on to the next game.”
Credit Hagelin for quieting the boo birds and awakening his teammates after the Penguins gained a 1-0 second-period advantage.
With less than five minutes remaining in the second period, Hagelin neatly controlled a long-lifted pass from John Moore, turned on the turbo boosters to blow past Penguins defenseman Simon Despres and scored a backhander past Marc-Andre Fleury.
“Moorsey got the puck and he tried to saucer it to me,” Hagelin said. “It was a bit of a knuckle-puck, so the ‘D’ didn’t think I’d be able to bat it down, but I did. When I did that, he took an extra stride to the left. I saw an open lane and just kept skating. I heard everyone on the bench just yell — skate, skate, skate. So I did, and I was able to pull off a backhand through the five hole.”
It was Hagelin’s second goal in consecutive games. Against Calgary on Sunday, Hagelin scored an alert wraparound goal which also was a game-tying goal. He was the most dominant Ranger in Sunday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Flames.
Vigneault finally rewarded Hagelin in the third period of Wednesday’s game by promoting him to the Rangers’ top line to join Derek Stepan and Rick Nash. Hagelin’s speed forced Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen into taking a tripping penalty, which allowed Derick Brassard to notch a game-tying power-play goal with 1:42 remaining in regulation.
“I thought Hags, with his speed, was a positive factor in this game,” Vigneault said. “He could challenge their defense with his speed and he got a goal by beating one of their defensemen. I figured we would just use that element and get him a little bit more time.”
Vigneault opted to give Hagelin a solid look in overtime, instead benching Chris Kreider for the entirety of overtime. Perhaps, this newfound belief in Hagelin could be a sign of things to come. He ideally belongs on the top line with Nash and Stepan as his speed would allow Nash more room to operate.
A.V. has asked Hagelin to find more consistency in his game. It appears that Hagelin is raising his game to the level that his head coach desires.
For a team whose fight-back abilities have been questioned throughout the season, Hagelin has made it obvious that his battle switch is turned on. He’s ready to do whatever it takes to pull the Rangers above .500.
It’s time that Vigneault elevates Hagelin to a permanent top-six role.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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