When Carl Hagelin arrived in Hartford at the end of last season, he could hardly been seen.
It wasn’t a lack of ice time that made it difficult to spot the forward. It was his speed that turned him into a green, blue and white blur for the Connecticut Whale.
New York Rangers fans have now gotten their first true look at Hagelin, who has debuted in the NHL with a goal and and two assists in his first three games. The Swedish-born prospect shouldn’t return to the Whale anytime soon.
Talent in the AHL varies like no other league. Fringe ECHL forwards play on the same lines as nearly-ready NHL prospects while being backed defensively by a thirty-something AHL lifer on the blueline. That’s why when a player with speed like Hagelin has comes around, he’s immediately noticed. In Hartford’s past, players like Ryan Callahan, Lauri Korpikoski and Artem Anisimov stuck out the same way Hagelin did.
Hagelin played in five playoff games last season and made an impact right from the start. He only picked up two points in the process, but Hagelin showed his other strengths in a flash. Using his speed and craftiness, Hagelin provided the Whale with a much-needed burst. And despite the Whale exiting the playoffs in the first round, Hagelin looked bright and smart on the ice, a sign of good things to come in the New York organization.
Jump ahead to the start of the 2011 season. Hagelin, who played four years of college hockey at the University of Michigan, is already 23 and looked like a sure thing to get the call to the New York Rangers at some point this season. And so his time in Hartford, where he scored 13 points in 17 games and led the team with a plus 12 and in shots with 46, was as much of a blur as the speedy winger is on the ice. I see no reason for him to return to Hartford anytime soon.
What he’s given the Rangers can’t come from any other source in the organization. When the Rangers lost to the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 19 the team looked taken back by the Canadiens’ speed. Hagelin can help sway the pendulum of quickness the other way. He might not pick up a point in the next few games, but he will make a noticeable impact in his dozen or so minutes on the ice in the way of his speed, strong forechecking and play along the boards.
The biggest discernible difference between the AHL and the NHL, outside of the obvious talent gap, is how fast the game is played. Hagelin is not the type of player that should be fazed by the dramatic increase in speed. At times in the AHL he was playing almost too fast for his own good. It will be important for Hagelin to let the game come to him from time to time while he makes a case to stay in the NHL.
Only time will tell what Hagelin’s scoring potential truly will be in the NHL. But even if the winger only nets a career high of twenty-something in goals, he’s going to remain one of the organization’s most important players for the rest of his career on Broadway.