Robert Hägg's quiet, simple game part of what Flyers like

Author: Dave Isaac,
Date: Mar 9, 2018

BOSTON — When all the national pundits heap praise on the Flyers for their farm system it brings expectations with it.

Not every player will rack up points like Morgan Frost, who has more than 100 points in the Ontario Hockey League. Not every player will make dazzling moves with the puck like Travis Sanheim, who has been terrific in the American Hockey League.

There’s a Robert Hägg for every Sanheim and a Scott Laughton for every Frost.

“This level, not only the enormity of the spotlight, but you’re playing against big, strong, fast guys every night,” general manager Ron Hextall said. ‘If you’re not fully prepared for it, it can catch up to you a little bit. That’s what happened to Travis a little bit. Give him credit; he went down and played terrific down there. Hats off to him.”

The issue that coach Dave Hakstol found with Sanheim, which led to the 21-year-old defenseman often being a healthy scratch, was that his peaks were too high and valleys too low with an emphasis on the latter. If the Flyers had an injury on defense, Sanheim would likely be the top candidate to be a replacement, but next season he should stick around full-time in the NHL.

Hägg will never have the moves Sanheim does, but that’s also not what the Flyers ask of him. He’s there to tie up opponents along the wall, strip them of the puck and be sound in his positioning in his own zone.

“This is my fourth year (pro in North America),” the Swede said. “I think I learned a lot from my time in Lehigh. It’s a long season. You don’t want to have those ebbs and flows. You want to play steady, or as steady as you can. Of course, you’re going to have some games better than others and some games are not gonna go your way but you have to bounce back. I think I learned a lot down in Lehigh trying to play more of an even level throughout the whole season. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.”

It’s clear to Hägg early in a game whether he’s feeling comfortable or not, whether he’s engaged in the game enough to be confident carrying the puck up the ice or struggling to keep it together on the back line.

“Some games you might just have to play simple, just go off the glass the whole game,” he said. “You know you don’t have it in you like your legs are bad or you’re not there mentally or whatever it is. You have to be (responsible) so the coach can trust you out there.”

The 23-year-old has been paired with Andrew MacDonald, a duo that won’t exactly be racking up the offensive numbers. They don’t have that kind of skillset and aren’t used in that way. According to, Hägg starts 58.6 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone and MacDonald 63.7 percent.

Hakstol has tried to use the pair in a way that’s safe. That has shown to backfire at times when an attempt to clear the puck from the defensive zone ends up being a turnover and sometimes a goal against.  

“I think we’re doing a good job of trying to help each other out when we’re getting in trouble. Mac is really easy to play with to be honest,” Hägg said. “He talks a lot out there and tries to help as much as he can. I try to do the same thing for him, help him when he needs it. We’ve played together and it’s gotten better and better and hopefully it can get even better over the last 14 games.”  

It would take a monumental collapse for the Flyers to miss the playoffs. They’re in a five-game losing streak, but Thursday’s 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins showed signs of reversing some of the bad habits they fell into. Assuming they make the postseason, Hägg’s low-risk game will be celebrated by the coaching staff even more.

To be sure, some of those turnovers from failed clears have to be shored up because miscues like that are a killer in the playoffs. But when Hägg limits that aspect of his game, he could be an asset even if he’s not piling up points.

“At this time of year play gets elevated no matter who you’re playing,” Hakstol said. “And when you’re playing against teams that are playoff teams or are right in the thick of things battling for playoff points, it becomes the next thing to playoff hockey. Every little play becomes more important, becomes more magnified. When you add up all those little plays through the 60 minutes, that’s gonna dictate the outcome.”

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