Rozner: Blackhawks' Hagel making his presence felt

  • Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Hagel, right, controls the puck against Detroit Red Wings left wing Troy Stecher during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021.

    Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Hagel, right, controls the puck against Detroit Red Wings left wing Troy Stecher during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. Associated Press

Updated 2/22/2021 6:51 PM

Suddenly, Brandon Hagel is noticeable because of a few scoring chances.

Like most simplistic and seasonal threads, it's a tad lacking. Hagel has been noticeable on virtually every shift since he began dressing for the Blackhawks 16 games ago.


If you didn't start watching hockey 16 minutes ago, then you've seen Hagel's impact. He's fast. He skates hard. He plays hard. He's heavy on the puck. He wins puck battles. He hits. He takes hits to possess the puck. He sees the ice and supports the puck.

And he plays 200 feet with a team-first mentality, puck security essential in his mind, a thought process Jeremy Colliton continues to preach and an idea that continues to evade those with a me-first mentality.

So yeah, the puck has been finding Hagel near the net of late, but he's been finding the puck since his first shift, tenacious in all three zones, which leads to another narrative.

Since Andrew Shaw is out of the lineup with another concussion, Hagel is the new Andrew Shaw.

Except, he's not.

Yes, Hagel is annoying, but he's not intentionally annoying like Shaw. He draws penalties not because he's baiting players -- something at which Shaw is brilliant -- but rather because he is outworking players along the boards and in the corners.

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In that regard, he's more Jocelyn Lemieux than Claude Lemieux.

While of similar skill and size (5-foot-11, 175 pounds), Hagel is faster than Shaw, which is not a knock on Shaw, whose purpose can't be overlooked. His presence is severely missed in the lineup.

But they are more different than meets the eye. When Hagel flies down the right side on his off wing, he's capable of beating defensemen, especially when he chips it to himself.

The 22-year-old Hagel began as a bottom-six forward because that's what coaches have determined in the past, but if you consistently put him in a role with better players and allowed him scoring chances -- which has happened of late -- he would probably fit right in, as he has good hands and more skill than maybe even he knows so early in his career.

It's a bit reminiscent of Steve Ludzik, a monster prospect coming out of juniors. Orval Tessier decided Ludzik was a role player in New Brunswick and then with the Hawks, and thus it was decided.


Maybe it's to be that Hagel will be a penalty killer and bottom-six forward, a high-energy player who wreaks havoc and disturbs the opposition, even occasionally dropping the gloves.

But like Drake Caggiula before him, if you were to give Hagel a chance at a bigger role with skilled players, he might surprise you. Hey, maybe he won't, but rewarding effort is good for a hockey club as it sends a strong message.

The rebuilding Hawks are at a critical point, having played well enough to gain confidence and think about staying in the playoff race, but it's only because a significant portion of the team has bought into what Colliton has been selling about playing a team game.

No one epitomizes that more than Hagel, who is willing on every shift to sacrifice for the team. He's not hanging out at center ice or cheating the wrong way looking for points, even though his junior career suggests -- like Ludzik -- that he could offer quite a bit more offensively.

Rewarding proper behavior on the ice is quite healthy for a developing program, where young and impressionable players are wondering who they should follow and how they should play the game.

That's probably why Colliton is starting to give Hagel more opportunities in a top-six role.

"Work ethic comes first," Hagel said. "Since you were a little kid, we've all heard that from our coaches. Some people may have taken it a different way, but this is the way I took it. My work ethic is the most important thing, day in and day out.

"I know I'm a young guy, but at the same time I'm trying to lead and buy into the culture that Jeremy is building in the dressing room. We know how we need to play to be a good hockey team, so if we do that then we're in a pretty good spot.

"The success we've been having is for a reason. It's not just luck. We have a lot to improve on, but we're headed in the right direction. Stick to the game plan. Most guys in this dressing room know what makes us a good team."

In limited ice time (12:49), Hagel is making his presence felt, and once that first NHL goal comes, there may be several to follow as he stops squeezing the stick.

"Eventually it will come," Hagel said. "The way I got here wasn't the easiest way. I've worked pretty hard to get to where I am.

"I'm here to be a full-time NHL player and I want to be the best I can possibly be, so I'm going to bring it every single night."

If there were any fans in the stands, Hagel would already be a crowd favorite. Paying customers appreciate effort, especially in a sport where effort is everything.

While some players meet their goaltender once a year at the annual Christmas party, Hagel plays a responsible, 200-foot game.

It's one that should be admired by fans and teammates alike.

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