Let’s think back a couple months. Back to a time where we had three big name prospects battling it out for two spots on the Flyers’ blue line. You had every analyst and arm-chair analyst making guesses as to who would don the orange and black with the Flyers when the season began. I bet nobody guessed that it was Robert Hagg who was going to be Mr. Dependable out of the bunch, and really the only one to make the club at the very beginning.
Big money was on Samuel Morin to make the club out of the gate, and he did. So did Travis Sanheim. All three made the squad basically due to injury. However, it soon became apparent that the two that earned the spots were Hagg and Sanheim, while Morin watched the games from a press box before the club returned for their home opener and sent him back down to their AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Then it was Sanheim’s turn to sit a few games up in the box and wait his turn to show Hakstol what he can do. He sat a few games, waited his turn, and came in a few games into the season and hit the ground running. Robert Hagg, in the meantime, was playing almost 20 minutes a game already and part of a pairing with Gostisbehere, and sometimes Gudas.
So what should we make of all this. It’s been discussed and it’s pretty much agreed upon universally that Samuel Morin got the raw end of this deal. He was essentially a lock to make the team coming out of training camp, and it was believed he would be joined by Robert Hagg and they would shore up the blue line, while Sanheim would end up back in Lehigh Valley to refine his game before he gets the nod.
Well, that didn’t happen. Morin ended up going back to Lehigh Valley while Hagg and Sanheim stayed up with the big boys. Let’s get one thing straight. Samuel Morin has nothing left to learn or gain from a stint with the Phantoms. He has been there for a few years, he has earned him bumps and bruises, but has also dished them out more frequently than acquiring them. Samuel Morin is a strong, physical defenseman. He won’t woo you with technique, or stickwork. He won’t be the guy to lead the charge down the ice. However, he will make you pay in the offensive zone.
But here we are, Sanheim and Hagg being the rookies on the blue line. What a time to be alive, right? I mean, yeah, it’s pretty cool seeing two guys who have been hyped up so much to this point finally get a crack at some NHL competition. Who would have thought, Hagg ended up being the dependable one of the bunch.
That’s not to say that Travis Sanheim isn’t capable of holding his own. He proved that in the preseason when he had impressive outing after impressive outing. Aside from those outings, now that the regular season has begun, he has proven that he is prone to those costly rookie mistakes. You see it every game, he will make an errant pass or get caught out of position, and he ends up paying for it. It’s part of the growing pains he is going to experience in his first season at the NHL level. Robert Hagg, however, has proven to be a very safe and sound type of player. He won’t impress you with his shooting. He won’t really impress you with his physical play. All around, not one aspect of his game stands out leaps and bounds over another, but that is what makes him reliable.
Hagg is just a solid all around guy. He isn’t exceptional at any one skill, but he is solid at them all. He makes mistakes, as do other rookies, as do ten year veterans of the game. The thing is, he doesn’t pay the price for those mistakes like Sanheim does, because he is a low risk type of player. He won’t make a terrible pass because he knows it will be a terrible pass. He won’t take a bad shot because it just isn’t the right thing to do in the position he is. He isn’t going to blow you away with his speed, but he will play every aspect of the game the way it needs to be played in order to be successful.
Hagg possesses the kind of mindset that it takes to succeed in this league. Sure, you can be the fastest skater in the league, but if you can’t put pucks in the net, you might as well be the slowest skater on the ice. You may be the toughest player night in and night out, but if you can’t clear the crease so your goalie has a clear path to track the puck, you might as well cower in the corner like a wuss. Point being, Hagg is up for about any role Hakstol will throw at him. He won’t put up Gostisbehere like numbers, but he darn sure will outscore your crease-clearer.
Hagg is a younger, less talented version of a Drew Doughty or a Duncan Keith. They’re physical and they can put points up on the board. They’re swiss army defensemen. (Please understand, I am not saying that Hagg is as good as Keith or Doughty, just drawing comparisons of player types.) Sure, maybe one day Robert Hagg ends up putting up 50 points and blocking over 200 shots. Maybe he even scores 25 or more goals in a season. That remains to be seen.
What you can bank on is that Robert Hagg will be a safe bet. He won’t make you pay by making a costly mistake at a crucial point during the game. He won’t slip up and give the puck away right in front of the net. He is going to take care of the puck. He is going to make sure that the puck stays in the Flyers possession as long as he has it. Understand, however, that he does still have a lot of growing to do as a player. You don’t learn everything you need to know in your rookie year. He has proven though, that in his short time in the NHL, that he can learn very quickly and adjust his game as well.
We already have a defenseman in Ivan Provorov that can do it all. We have the offensive-minded defenseman in Shayne Gostisbehere. We also have the shut down defenseman, even though he is playing up in Lehigh Valley at the moment, in Samuel Morin. Imagine those three, with a player similar to Provorov, as your top four. We fans have known for some time that our blue line was going to be elite in these coming years, we never envisioned what it could be like if Hagg turned out to be a player similar to the style and caliber of Provorov. Scary, huh?
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports