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Philadelphia Flyers 25 Under 25: Robert Hagg finally appears to be ready for the NHL

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After a disastrous 2015-16 season, Robert Hagg bounced back last year and finds himself as one of the favorites in camp to earn a roster spot with the Flyers.

Kate Frese / SB Nation

A little over four years ago, then-Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren made the command decision to infuse his organization with a jolt of much-needed young defensive talent. The move was understandable: the NHL blueline at the time was somewhere between barely-passable and a total mess, with no obvious high-end prospects forthcoming in the pipeline. Sure, Shayne Gostisbehere was in the organization (drafted in 2012), but he had yet to become Shayne Gostisbehere, and generally came with the reputation of an “intriguing sleeper” rather than that of a true blue-chip prospect.

So at the 2013 NHL Draft in New Jersey, Holmgren took not just one but two defensemen viewed as first-round talents. Samuel Morin was selected 11th, and at pick 41, Holmgren snapped up Robert Hagg, who had surprisingly fallen to round two. The thirty pick gap between the two defensemen was deceiving; many believed Morin was overdrafted due to his size and nasty on-ice temperament, while Hagg was deemed a steal who slipped further than expected. Combine their similar pre-draft stocks with the fact that the duo immediately jumped to the top of the organizational depth chart when it came to defensive prospects, and it’s unsurprising that Morin and Hagg have remained linked in the minds of fans even as the Flyers have added blueliners with even higher upsides to the pipeline.

In the two seasons following the draft, Hagg essentially kept pace with his higher-selected peer. He spent a full season in the SHL before signing his ELC and joining the Adirondack Phantoms for ten games at the tail end of 2013-14. Then, he put together a solid age 19/20 season as a rookie in the AHL. Morin was progressing as well — he improved his QMJHL point-per-game ratio in both his Draft+1 and Draft+2 seasons — but it wasn’t ridiculous to rank the Swede over the Canadian during the summer of 2015.

It became far more difficult to make that case in the wake of 2015-16. While Morin finally turned pro and put together a perfectly-fine freshman campaign with the Phantoms, Robert Hagg took a big step back. His point totals declined, his on-ice metrics cratered, and he was repeatedly healthy scratched as the coaching staff in Lehigh Valley tried to get Hagg’s game back on track. Suddenly, Hagg was in danger of dropping out of the conversation entirely when it came to impact defensive prospects in the Flyers’ organization, especially with the surprise emergence of Philippe Myers in the QMJHL during that same season. It also turned the 2016-17 season into an especially important one for Hagg, as he needed to prove that his down year was an aberration and not the first sign of stalled development.

Luckily for he and the Flyers, Hagg did just that, bouncing back both statistically and in the eyes of the organization as a whole. As a result, the 22-year old defenseman is now banging on the NHL door.

No. 13: Robert Hagg

Position: D
Age: 22 (2/8/1995)
Acquired Via: 2013 NHL Draft -- Round 2, Pick 41
2016-17 League/Team/Statistics: Lehigh Valley (AHL) - 7 G, 8 A in 58 GP
Nationality: Swedish
Ranking in BSH Winter 2017 25 Under 25: T-15

It’s easy to conclude this in retrospect, but Hagg’s turnaround likely began at the tail end of the 2015-16 season rather than the start of this one. In April of 2016, Hagg posted five points in eight games and appeared to regain both his confidence and the trust of his coaches. But in the moment, it did not erase his poor results during the preceding five months. The hope was that his late-season surge would carry over into the 2016-17 season, but that outcome was no guarantee.

By April of the following year, Hagg was making his NHL debut.

Sure, it may have been a one-game audition in a lost season for the big club, but for Hagg, the debut was a well-earned reward for a season in which he improved upon all of his 5-on-5 numbers, scoring at a more efficient rate than ever before and posting positive on-ice goal-based outcomes. By basically every metric that we have, Hagg’s 2016-17 was the best season of his North American career.

Thanks to the great site Prospect-Stats, we can evaluate Hagg’s estimated point production per 60 minutes of play, and his on-ice Goals For percentage in each of his full seasons with the Phantoms. It’s immediately obvious that last year was the Swedish defenseman’s most complete performance to date.

Robert Hagg Year-by-Year 5v5 Results

Season Estimated 5v5 TOI/Game Estimated 5v5 Primary Points/60 Estimated 5v5 Total Points/60 On-Ice 5v5 Goals For Percentage 5v5 Goals For Relative to Teammates
Season Estimated 5v5 TOI/Game Estimated 5v5 Primary Points/60 Estimated 5v5 Total Points/60 On-Ice 5v5 Goals For Percentage 5v5 Goals For Relative to Teammates
2016-17 15.32 0.74 1.01 53.19% +2.88%
2015-16 12.58 0.44 0.59 43.84% -6.42%
2014-15 14.42 0.24 0.60 45.88% +4.63%

His rookie year had a few positive markers, namely a +4.63% GF%Rel despite Hagg being just 19 years of age during the bulk of the season. However, it was a strong performance only relative to even-worse teammates (as shown by his GF% of 45.88%), and it came with very few primary points (0.24 eP1/60). In Year 2, Hagg’s point production did not improve (though he did jump a bit in primary points) and his goal-based results fell off a cliff. Looking at these numbers, it’s no surprise that head coach Scott Gordon dramatically cut back on Hagg’s ice time at 5v5 in 2015-16. The results simply weren’t there.

In 2016-17, however, everything improved. His eP1/60 jumped from 0.44 to 0.74, and he dragged his overall estimated Points/60 to over 1.0. His Goals For% Rel also jumped back into the black, and this time he did so while finishing comfortably above 50 percent on the whole.

How did this statistical profile match up to Hagg’s peers? His estimated primary points per 60 rate ranked seventh in the AHL among defensemen under the age of 22 last season, and he was one of only 10 under-22 blueliners to finish with a eP1/60 over 0.60 and a positive GF% Rel at 5v5. He wasn’t at the top of the class — players like Ryan Pulock, Shea Theodore and the Phantoms’ own Travis Sanheim had more impressive profiles — but Hagg was certainly holding his own with the top prospects in the AHL.

In addition, after being temporarily usurped by Morin on the organization depth chart following the 2015-16 season, Hagg was clearly the more effective statistical defenseman last year at even strength.

2016-17 Hagg vs. Morin at 5v5

Player Games Played Estimated 5v5 TOI per Game Estimated 5v5 Primary Points/60 Estimated 5v5 Points/60 Goals For % GF% Rel
Player Games Played Estimated 5v5 TOI per Game Estimated 5v5 Primary Points/60 Estimated 5v5 Points/60 Goals For % GF% Rel
Robert Hagg 58 15.32 0.74 1.01 53.19% +2.88%
Samuel Morin 74 13.66 0.53 0.95 48.96% -5.71%

This isn’t a comprehensive analysis of the two players’ seasons, of course. It fails to account for role, nor does it account for the possible impact of high or low PDOs on the goal-based results of Hagg and Morin. However, it’s fair to note that between the two “NHL-ready” defensive prospects in the system, Hagg was a better scorer at 5v5 than Morin and was witness to more positive on-ice outcomes as well.

It’s especially important because of the positions that Hagg and Morin find themselves in the organization right now. Mirroring their entries into the organization on the same day, their respective NHL debuts came just five days apart at the end of last season. Just as important, Philadelphia has only five returning NHL defensemen under contract for 2017-18, which has functioned as an implicit admission by Ron Hextall that at least two rookie blueliners will be making the club in October. Considering their April auditions with the big club, Hagg and Morin stand as the clubhouse favorites.

But those younger hotshot prospects that pushed the 2013 draft duo down the Flyers’ prospect rankings are gunning for the NHL as well. Travis Sanheim had a more impressive statistical season in the AHL last year than Hagg or Morin, despite being one year younger than both. And Philippe Myers lasted longer in training camp last September than Hagg, despite the fact that the former was only 19 at the time and had only just been cleared to play after offseason surgery when camp began. One of those two open spots may seem earmarked for Hagg considering his age and development path, but Sanheim and Myers aren’t going to just roll over and let Hagg nab a spot by default.

Still, it’s important to remember what made Hagg such a strong prospect way back in 2013. He may not be an especially flashy defenseman, but he’s an above-average skater and was physically strong enough for the NHL two seasons ago. He earned detractors in the past for a playing style that some dubbed as “casual,” but during his NHL debut he looked far more like an economical player who naturally knew where to be at all times rather than one lacking intensity and effort.

His point totals in the AHL do not hint that Hagg will be a major offensive weapon from the back end, but Philadelphia has a number of blueliners who already fit that mold. A defenseman willing to function as the support member of a pairing and give flashier players like Gostisbehere, Provorov and Sanheim more freedom to freelance at 5v5 could be exactly what the Flyers need.

Training camp in September should be very competitive, but Robert Hagg is one of the favorites to earn one of the open spots on the blueline for good reason. After three full AHL seasons and fresh off his best one yet, it feels like the right time for Hagg to get an extended look at the NHL level. Once he gets that chance, the conversation surrounding the 22-year old can move away from whether he will become an NHL regular, and towards the question of his eventual ceiling as a player.

How We Voted For Robert Hagg

Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
11 10 13 13 15 10 9 13 16 17 12 11

How We Voted At No. 13

Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Kurt Al Kelly Allison Jay Charlie Bill Steph Kate Travis Joe Community
Anthony Stolarz Anthony Stolarz Robert Hagg Robert Hagg Felix Sandstrom Carter Hart Anthony Stolarz Robert Hagg Isaac Ratcliffe German Rubtsov Felix Sandstrom Scott Laughton

How The Community Voted For Robert Hagg

Ranking # of Votes
Ranking # of Votes
1 0
2 0
3 0
4 4
5 4
6 25
7 47
8 67
9 102
10 150
11 161
12 140
13 111
14 60
15 44
16 35
17 20
18 8
19 13
20 7
21 8
22 3
23 0
24 1
25 0
NR 24

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Previously on Philadelphia Flyers Summer 2017 25 Under 25: