Some Bolts fans believed the team had hit the jackpot at the trade deadline last season. They landed a highly sought-after commodity in Brandon Hagel. Hagel had already scored 21 goals for the Chicago Blackhawks in just 55 games. Hopes were high in the Bay area for the 23-year-old left-winger. But would Hagel find his stride as a Bolt?
Doing all the Right Things
From his debut in Tampa, Brandon Hagel was doing all the right things. He skated fast and was never afraid to go to the tough areas to fight for the puck. Hagel stood out as a tenacious forechecker, and was a force to be reckoned with on the penalty kill. He was almost always out on the ice in the final minutes of a tight game to hold down the victory. Unfortunately, he was not finding the score sheet as much as fans had hoped- perhaps expected. In his 22 regular-season games with the Lightning last year, he scored just 4 goals. He added 2 more in the Bolts’ 23-game playoff run. Despite playing well overall, Hagel was not quite finding his stride.
Hagel addressed his initial trade jitters to tampabaylightning.com press this past May. He explained, “I’ve never been the type to make excuses, but getting traded was tough. I didn’t know a single person with the Lightning. I was trying to juggle fitting in with my new team and getting all my stuff moved from Chicago to Tampa. Processing everything in such a short amount of time was a bit of a challenge. But here I am.”
Filling a Void
During the off-season, the Lightning found themselves with a void to fill. Ondrej Palat, one of the best players to ever don a Bolt uniform signed as a free agent with another team. The top line still had the speedy star Brayden Point at center and former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov on right wing. But now there was a void at left wing. Palat did not always get the credit he deserved as a valued member of that line. There were many who suggested that anyone could rack up the statistics on a line with the duo of Point and Kucherov. But not so. In fact, a player requires a very unique skill set in order to fit on a line like that.
Checking all the Boxes
Did the Bolts have a player who could check all the boxes to fill the Palat void? What skills does a player need to make it on a top line with the likes of Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov? One important quality is speed. They need a winger who is fast enough to keep up with Point on a rush and be in place to receive one of Kucherov’s patented beautiful passes. We have all been impressed with Hagel’s speed as he manages to outskate the opposition for a breakaway on the penalty kill. We know he possesses the needed speed.
The Point-Kucherov line also needs someone who can forecheck. Someone who will fight to get the puck out of the tough areas and pass to his talented linemates. From the moment he stepped onto the ice in a Lightning uniform, Hagel has been described as a relentless forechecker for the team.
Additionally, the winger needs to be able to find the back of the net from time to time. When his linemates set him up, they need to be able to count on him to finish the play. Hagel had 21 goals in 55 games for the Blackhawks last year. We know he can score.
Also, the player needs to be a solid two-way player. They certainly need the offensive skills to be productive on the line. But defensive skills are critical as well. As brilliant as Nikita Kucherov is offensively, he does have his defensive lapses. The line needs a player who is defensively minded enough to quickly prevent an offensive break the other way. Brandon Hagel demonstrated throughout last season’s playoff run that he understood the importance of focusing on defense.
Finding his Stride
It is official now. Brandon Hagel has joined the top line. And without a doubt, that top line is gelling right now. Before getting stymied in Washington Friday night, they were on quite a roll. Nikita Kucherov had an 11-game point steak, during which he amassed 20 points. Brayden Point had a 5-game point streak, during which he put up 9 points. Hagel had a 3-game point streak with 5 points over those 3 games. In the 5 games prior to the loss to the Capitals, the Kucherov-Point-Hagel line had combined for 26 points- 8 goals and 18 assists. Hagel did get back on the score-sheet Sunday night with an assist against the Capitals. Although he did not get a point Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars, his line was flying all evening long.
From his first game as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brandon Hagel has been doing all the right things. Now, his hard work has started to pay off. Hagel is finding his stride on the top line which is quickly becoming one of the best in the league.
Brandon Hagel’s one-timer finds the yawning cage to tie it up at 1 for Tampa!#GoBolts pic.twitter.com/x57v93dzQX
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) November 9, 2022
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