Carl Hagelin’s journey to this year’s Stanley Cup final with the Pittsburgh Penguins has been long, whirling and light. Exactly like his hair. But underneath those blonde, thick curls that protrude from the back (and side) of his helmet, far down toward his shoulders, there’s a lot more brain and hockey sense than Carl Hagelin often gets credit for.
Everywhere the 27-year-old has went – from Södertälje in Sweden and the University of Michigan to New York Rangers and Anaheim Ducks in the NHL – Hagelin has played with a pretty much clear-cut label on himself. An aggressive, selfless and incredibly fast forechecker and power forward; someone who caters for his own team mates without ever complaining.
Sure, all of that is accurate when it comes to Hagelin. But he has also grown to become so much more.
Needless to say, the forward never really hit home in Anaheim where he started the 2015-16 season. That is, however, understandable. The Ducks play a type of hockey that simply does not bring out the brilliance of Hagelin, and for him to adapt and change his whole playing style according to one team’s specific system is not really fair, especially given the short time that he got to prove himself. So let’s just say that Anaheim made a miscalculation by even bringing Hagelin there.
Hagelin has been such an x factor for the Penguins. Fantastic two way player. Rangers made a HUGE mistake. They paid for it this season.
— Beth (@pghgirl15222) June 1, 2016
Also, Couture leading SJS scorer has Donskoi, and Kessel leading PIT scorer has Hagelin. Smart linemates who support and manipulate space
— Bob Roberts (@BobRbrts) May 30, 2016
Now we know that he belongs in Pennsylvania. The Pens’ speedy, throbbing play that has brought them to the Stanley Cup Final fits Hagelin in the best way, as he has been a prominent figure in enhancing his team’s playing style.
Perhaps even more importantly, the Swede has been assigned a perfect line match in Pittsburgh. Alongside Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, Hagelin has been allowed to find and develop his best-self and build one of the hottest lines of this postseason. Their roles may seem obvious: Bonino as the wise and hard-working center on both sides of the ice; Kessel as the skillful creator and scorer; and Hagelin as the someone-in-between, mostly skating his way to create time and space for the other two.
One Bright Blonde
Meanwhile, the new and upgraded role of Hagelin with the Pens remains unmentioned by many. Maybe because it is not easily noticeable, seeing that he has maintained his trademark speed and all-round ability throughout his progress. But the truth is that Hagelin hides a world class skill and cleverness that should be regarded as highly as his physical game by now.
He has often been the type of player that produces goals and assists in a rather equal frequency, but this season the assist column has surpassed the goal column with almost double the amount. That says something about his change. And just look at the video below, his pass to Phil Kessel from earlier this season, as an example of Hagelin’s underrated quality, all the while his pace becomes even more useful than before.
Curls Beat Beards?
During the final series, the majestic and bushy beards of the San Jose Sharks’ Brent Burns and Joe Thornton have been a constant topic for media and fans to discuss. Of course that is the case. Their beards have grown to almost bizarre dimensions at this stage. But a similar thing is going on for Carl Hagelin. He has never, at least that I know of, had as long hair as he has now, which means that he compensates with wavy and long hair for what he lacks in beard growth.
However, beards tend to be associated with wisdom, while youthful hairstyles such as Hagelin’s often indicates inexperience and naivety. Think again this time.
Because it could not get more misleading when it comes to Carl Hagelin. I doubt that it would be a strategy from Hagelin’s side to disguise his own wisdom by growing out his hair, but evidently it works. Few teams have managed to put a stop to the Swede on the ice, and the Sharks better realize what intelligence and competence hides inside his contradictory shell.
Or else, Carl Hagelin will continue to grow, beyond shoulder lengths, and the Pittsburgh Penguins will have an even bigger chance to grasp the Stanley Cup trophy than they already have.
Freelance sports journalist settled in Malmo, Sweden. Author on the official site of the Swedish Hockey League. Cover Swedish prospects on their road to the NHL, and Swedish players making it in the NHL.