Lightning’s Brandon Hagel Finally Hitting His Stride

It was not exactly how Brandon Hagel wanted to start his tenure with the Tampa Bay Lighting. After struggling to gel with his new teammates after being traded from the Chicago Blackhawks, he has started the 2022-23 season playing and producing in the same manner he did before being traded. That increase in production was clearly on display on Oct. 26 when he scored the game-winning goal in a 4-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.

In March of 2022, Hagel was dealt to the Lightning from the Blackhawks in exchange for Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh and a first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and 2024 NHL Draft that are top-10 protected. The Lightning also received a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and the 2024 Draft. Part of the allure of the trade was that the Lighting was not only getting a quality 23-year-old forward but someone with a somewhat cap-friendly salary. He has two seasons remaining on a three-year, $4.5 million contract ($1.5 million average annual value).

Hagel Struggled After the Trade

With the Blackhawks in 2021-22, the former draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres had 21 goals and 16 assists in 55 games. He also scored 61 points (30 goals, 31 assists) in 108 games over three seasons. In addition to scoring, Hagel is a tenacious forechecker, which also fits the mold of what the Lightning were hoping to add to their roster to make a deep playoff run. The native of Canada has brought to the team someone that goes to the hard areas, plays quickly, creates offense, and can be used in various roles. While he did that for the Lightning after the trade, his point production did not.

Brandon Hagel Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon Hagel, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Hagel struggled with his new team after the trade by his own admittance. “Getting traded was tough. I didn’t know a single person with the Lightning. I was trying to juggle fitting in with my new team and getting all my stuff moved from Chicago to Tampa. Processing everything in such a short amount of time was a bit of a challenge.” Eventually, Hagel found his stride and was productive during the Lightning’s run to their third straight Stanley Cup Final.

Hagel Starts the Season Strong

One indication that Hagel was ready to continue that production came in a preseason game against the Nashville Predators. In that second game of the back-to-back preseason contests, the Lightning played poorly in a 7-1 loss to the Predators. However, his play was one of the few bright spots in the game, who scored the only goal for the Lightning. Even with the lopsided loss, Hagel never stopped working hard. Along with Vladislav Namestnikov, the former Western Hockey League (WHL) all-star stood out while playing on the penalty kill many times in the contest, generating two great shorthanded chances on back-to-back shifts.

Vladislav Namestnikov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Vladislav Namestnikov (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That hard work and production continued into the start of the season while some of his other Lightning teammates struggled. This culminated in Wednesday night’s game against the Ducks as he scored a goal for the third-straight game to give his team a 3-2 lead before Nick Paul sealed it with an empty-net goal at the 19:58 mark. That three-goal streak matches a career-high for Hagel, who has demonstrated his tenacity throughout the early part of the season by using his speed on the forecheck to force turnovers in the offensive zone, allowing the Lightning to create some solid scoring chances.

Hagel’s hard work has not gone unnoticed by his coaches or teammates, as after the Lightning’s back-to-back wins on Oct. 21-22, head coach Jon Cooper had this to say about his young forward: “Hages has done an exceptional job for us,” Cooper explained. “It takes players a little bit of time to find their way with our team, but he has a definitive role. Now he’s stepped into a little bit more of an offensive role. He’s played well. He works. He retrieves pucks. He does all these things.”

An X-Factor for the 2022-23 Season

Hagel’s forechecking and willingness to get to the dirty areas of the ice has been one of the factors in the games when the Lightning have been successful. After being somewhat snakebit in the points department at the beginning of the season, his hard work has finally paid off in that area, especially since being placed on a line with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. “They just haven’t gone in for him, so you hope that getting one like he did tonight will trigger something because he’s been around the net, and he’s had his chances,” Cooper said after last Saturday’s victory over the New York Islanders. “That’s why you’re fired up when they go in for him like tonight.”

Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay Lightning
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hagel could be the spark the Lightning need after starting the season with an underachieving 4-4-0 record. In addition to the goals, the now 24-year-old forward has been an excellent table setter for his linemates. In the Islanders win, he stole the from an Islanders defender below the goal line and fed Kucherov, who had his shot stopped before Point was right there on the doorstep to score on the rebound. This is a gritty play that the Lighting hopes it can continue to get from Hagel consistently, as the team needs some kind of spark to help get them out of their early-season funk.

Related: Lightning’s Path Forward if Everything Goes Wrong

It is never easy to be traded. Now, picture a 23-year-old coming from a non-playoff team to the two-time Stanley Cup champions, loaded with veterans who have played together for quite a while. It sometimes takes a while for a player at that age, without a lot of NHL experience, to find their way on a team like the Lightning. But finally, Hagel has made his way with the team, has established a definitive role, and is poised to be one of the key components in helping the Lightning reach their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

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