Despite showing an unexpected offensive upside at the NHL level in his rookie year the Rangers will be better placed for a long term, successful era when Carl Hagelin is flying down the left wing on the third line. He won’t be a casualty of depth but could be the difference maker because of it.
Make no mistake Hagelin exceeded expectations this year (despite a generally subpar playoffs ), showed his flexibility in terms of ability to slide up and down the line-up, while also surprising many with his ability to play on the top line and not look out of depth alongside marquee NHL talent such as Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. However, there are a few reasons why Hagelin’s future may lie further down the line-up – something that is no insult by any stretch.
As discussed extensively, there is a good chance that the Rangers will pursue a high end, skilled forward this summer to help remedy the main causes of their playoff series loss to the Devils in particular. The main reasons the Rangers lost were inconsistent – to be polite – goal scoring and a (still) subpar powerplay. Bringing in someone like the oft mentioned Zach Parise should help remedy both areas of need. Needless to say, bringing in a big ticket like Parise means ice time and an integral role for the new recruit. It likely means top line duty and will bump other players further down the roster – including Hagelin.
Then there is the Chris Kreider factor to consider. Kreider, like Hagelin, made an immediate impact for the Rangers straight from college and he did this in the toughest arena of all – the playoffs. While both players are mature for their age and blessed with blazing speed it’s assumed – and expected – Kreider will be the heavier scorer. Given the way Kreider burst on to the scene in the playoffs (5 goals) the blue chip prospect will be given every opportunity to assume a goal scoring position next season. Like with a new, external recruit this could affect what line Hagelin plays the majority of his minutes.
One thing both Kreider and Hagelin do is bring almost unrivalled skating ability to the Rangers. Throw in Gaborik’s elite skating ability and the Rangers have at least three world class skaters whose speed alone can be a difference maker. Imagine each one of the trio skating on a different line. The mismatch opportunities for coach Tortorella soon rack up. With players like Hagelin and Kreider going against other teams’ bottom lines there’s likely to only be one winner in the speed stakes.
Having a player like Hagelin on the third line allows the Rangers to maintain a perhaps unparalleled, sustained forecheck as the team suddenly has a player that can beat other team’s defenses to the puck in the corners on almost every line. Rangers fans have seen the impact Hagelin’s speed can have when he’s chasing down the pucks. It’s both a way of breaking up pressure from opposition – most defenses back off guys like Hagelin – and a way of generating offense.
There is also the sheer depth that having a player like Hagelin in the bottom six creates. When the Boyle-Prust- insert third player name line is the de-facto bottom line, then the Rangers have the depth to win a cup. The same principle rings true for Hagelin. With Hagelin and the likes of Artem Anisimov on a potential third line the Rangers should have a line that can create offense, that can cycle the puck down low and one that is defensively sound. One of the Rangers issues against the Devils and all season long was an inability to generate consistent scoring lower down the line-up. Again, Hagelin can help this.
It’s not an insult to Hagelin’s ability or place in the organisation to suggest him as a third line player. It’s also not suggesting that his Rangers career would be in jeopardy with subsequent, likely moves to add further forwards, far from it. Having Hagelin on the third line is a potential luxury for Tortorella to exploit that few coaches around the league enjoy.
Should the Rangers manage to upgrade the skill department (an absolute organisational priority this summer) there is a very real chance Hagelin will be on a lower line. Imagine a theoretical left side of Parise-Kreider-Hagelin and then try and suggest that the Swede wouldn’t be in position to succeed just because he’s lower down the line-up. Hagelin may not be in line for the same linemates next year but both he and the Rangers may benefit from it when looking at it objectively.