As a standout collegiate player at University of Michigan, Carl Hagelin thrived on the big stage – whether it was in front of more than 110,000 fans during the Big Chill at Michigan Stadium or before a raucous crowd at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA playoffs.
So it was no surprise that the 23-year-old rookie handled his first NHL playoff game with cool composure.
The speedy Swedish winger, who has carved out a spot on the team’s top line with talented duo Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, delivered in his first post-season foray. His relentless fore-checking pressure helped set up both Gaborik’s and Richards’ goals in the team’s 4-2 win over the Senators in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Thursday.
“That’s his first playoff game ever -- starting lineup, MSG -- first shift and there he was, in there digging, battling,” said 31-year-old Richards. “He jumped right in. He wasn’t feeling it out.”
The first man to pressure the puck before Gaborik’s second-period marker, Hagelin made a terrific play to earn a helper on Richards’ 22nd career playoff goal in the third. Jammed up in the neutral zone by Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar, Hagelin recovered to locate Nick Foligno retrieving the puck near his own goal. He raced in to nudge Foligno with his right shoulder behind the net, snatching the puck before centering to Richards for the score.
“That’s kind of my job description on the line,” said Hagelin, who has 14 goals and 24 assists since being recalled from the AHL back in November. “To chase down the puck, create turnovers and try to let those guys do what they’re good at, creating chances, holding onto the puck and making offensive plays.”
If realizing his role among the team’s top tandem is a good indication of his precociousness, than his play is also an ample display of his confidence. Flanking a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner and three-time 40-goal scorer could be intimidating, but Hagelin seems for the most part pretty unflappable.
“He’s a confident kid,” chuckled coach John Tortorella . “I’m not going to label his confidence, but I’m going to watch his confidence for sure.”
Tortorella said he still expects the youngster to “veer” off occasionally. And in that case, the coaching staff will do their part to corral him in the right direction. After all, he is expected to be a vital component for the team’s top line’s success.
“We always talk about Richie and Gabby,” Tortorella said, “but I’ll tell ya, I think Hags is just as important as either one of those guys if that line is going to work.