Role expanded for Hagg as season progressed with Lehigh Valley

By Tony Androckitis
Robert Hagg - Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Photo: Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Robert Hagg (L) posted two assists in seven games for Sweden at the 2015 U20 World Junior Championship (courtesy of Corey Silvia/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

 

With his first regular season of AHL hockey now completed, Robert Hagg will have 79 AHL games under his belt (including 10 games from 2013-14). While he’s showed flashes of brilliant play in the offensive zone, Hagg seemed to spend the second half of the season really focusing on expanding his identity to a two-way defender who can shut down opposing team’s scorers as well.

“You can’t ever forget he is 20 years old,” Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Terry Murray said of Hagg. “Robert is starting to come. His game is growing. Maybe we always want faster, quicker development but from the start of the season, his role has taken on more.”

Hagg himself noted that there’s been a drop-off in his offensive production in the second half of the season – 10 points (2G-8A) in his first 15 games as compared to nine points (1G-8A) in his last 51 games – but also noted that there has been an emphasis under Murray and assistant coach Riley Cote on his play away from the puck and in his own end.

“I think I’m getting better and better every game,” Hagg said. “If I look at myself at the start of this year, it was a little bit up and down, but I think I have found a better level to be at night after night. I feel like I’m improving a lot during this year.”

In the March 29th game against Manchester – the league’s top team during the regular season – Hagg found himself matched against the Monarchs’ top line regularly, including the AHL’s leading scorer in Brian O’Neill. The Phantoms lost the game 3-1, but Hagg and his defensive partner Steven Delisle kept the Monarchs’ top offensive players off the scoresheet.

“I’m just going out there to play my game,” Hagg said after that game. “Of course I know I’ve dropped in producing points, but I’m trying to do what I can to help the team win. If that’s playing a defensive role and shut down their top line, I have no problem with that.”

“He’s a player that’s played in the Elite League in Sweden,” Murray said of Hagg, noting he wasn’t afraid of matching a first-year North American pro against the top line of the top team. “He knows how to deal with players like [Manchester’s] Weal and O’Neill. I think that the reads he made against those guys are pretty consistent with someone who can play against skilled players. So, he did a pretty good job.”

While adjusting to the smaller ice surface is an obvious change from Hagg’s two years of playing in Sweden with MODO, the schedule he’s played in the AHL is far more grueling than what he’s used to. Add in some extra hockey playing in the World Junior Championship in the middle of his first AHL season, and just the amount of hockey Hagg has played this year has taken some getting used to.

“In Sweden, you play 55 games for a whole year,” Hagg said, who appeared in 50 games with MODO in 2013-14. “You have four breaks during the season.”

“[In the AHL] you have 76 games and it’s a Christmas break for three days and an All-Star break for three days,” Hagg said, adding, “So it’s a little bit different but I like it so far.”

The Phantoms missed the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs for the fifth straight season, but Hagg had plenty to play for in the final games of the season.

“As a professional hockey player, you always want to win. That’s the way it is,” Hagg said after a recent game. “You go in for a game and you want to win that game. We have to battle these last games and make the best of it.”

Now with a full season of North American pro hockey under his belt, Hagg will be expected to come in next season and be a more consistent and more dominant defender at the AHL level with Lehigh Valley next season. The Flyers’ second round pick (41st overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, Hagg tried to make a final impression before heading back to Sweden for the summer.

“I try to play as good as I can to make a good impression for the guys upstairs and next year for camp,” Hagg said, also noting, “To have something good on their mind when they think about me.”

Follow Tony Androckitis on Twitter via @H_P_Hockey