Lightning’s Brandon Hagel is finally hitting his stride

It wasn’t exactly how Brandon Hagel wanted to start his tenure with the Tampa Bay Lighting. After struggling to bond with his new teammates after being traded from the Chicago Blackhawks, he began the 2022-23 season playing and producing the same way he did before being traded. This increase in production was clearly visible on October 26 when he scored the game-winning goal in a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

In March 2022, Hagel was transferred to the Blackhawks Lightning in exchange for Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh and a first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and 2024 NHL Draft who are top-10 protected. The Lightning also received a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and the 2024 Draft. Part of the appeal of the trade was that the Lighting was not just getting a 23-year-old quality forward, but someone. one with a somewhat favorable salary. He has two seasons left on a three-year, $4.5 million contract (average annual value of $1.5 million).

Hagel struggled after the trade

With the Blackhawks in 2021-22, the former Buffalo Sabers draft pick registered 21 goals and 16 assists in 55 games. He also scored 61 points (30 goals, 31 assists) in 108 games over three seasons. Along with scoring, Hagel is a tenacious forechecker, who also fits the mold of what the Lightning were hoping to add to their roster to make a deep playoff run. The Canada native has brought into the team someone who goes into tough areas, plays fast, creates attack and can be used in a variety of roles. While he did for the Lightning after the trade, his point production didn’t.

Brandon Hagel, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Star/The Hockey Writers)

Hagel struggled with his new team after the trade by his own admission. “Getting traded was difficult. I didn’t know anyone with the Lightning. I was trying to juggle my new team and move all my stuff from Chicago to Tampa. Dealing with everything in such a short time was a bit difficult. Eventually, Hagel found his groove and was productive during the Lightning’s run to their third straight Stanley Cup Final.

Hagel starts the season strong

An indication that Hagel was ready to continue that production came during a preseason game against the Nashville Predators. In this second game of back-to-back preseason contests, the Lightning played poorly in a 7-1 loss to the Predators. However, his play was one of the few bright spots in the game, who scored the Lightning’s lone goal. Even with the lopsided loss, Hagel never stopped working hard. In the same way Vladislav Namestnikovthe former Western Hockey League (WHL) star stood out playing shorthanded several times in the game, generating two great shorthanded chances in back-to-back shifts.

Vladislav Namestnikov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Vladislav Namestnikov (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That hard work and production continued into the start of the season as some of his other Lightning teammates struggled. It culminated in Wednesday night’s game against the Ducks as he scored a goal for the third game in a row to give his team a 3-2 lead before Nick Paul sealed it with an empty-netter at 19:58. The three-goal streak is a career high for Hagel, who showed his tenacity throughout the first half of the season by using his speed on the forecheck to force turnovers in the offensive zone, allowing the Lightning to create solid scoring chances.

Hagel’s hard work didn’t go unnoticed by his coaches or teammates, as after the Lightning’s back-to-back wins on October 21 and 22, head coach Jon Cooper had this to say. on his young striker: “Hages did an exceptional job for us,” Cooper explained. “It takes a bit of time for the players to find their way with our team, but he has a definitive role. Now he has entered a slightly more attacking role. He played well. He works. He collects the pucks. He does all of these things.

An X factor for the 2022-23 season

Hagel’s forecheck and willingness to reach the dirty areas of the ice has been one of the factors in games where the Lightning have been successful. After being somewhat bitten in the points department at the start of the season, his hard work has finally paid off in this area, especially since being placed on a line with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. “They just didn’t go and get him, so you’re hoping to get one like he did tonight will trigger something because he went around the net and had his chances,” said Cooper after last Saturday’s victory over the New York Islanders. “That’s why you get excited when they go after him like tonight.”

Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay Lightning
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hagel could be the spark the Lightning need after starting the season with an underperforming 4-4-0 record. As well as goals, the now 24-year-old striker has been an excellent passer for his teammates. In the Islanders win, he stole the ball from an Islanders defender below the goal line and fed Kucherov, who had his shot saved before Point was right there on the doorstep to score on the rebound . It’s a serious game that the Lighting hopes they can continue to get from Hagel on a consistent basis, as the team needs some kind of spark to help them out of their early season funk.

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It’s never easy to be traded. Now imagine a 23-year-old coming from a non-playoff team of two-time Stanley Cup champions, full of veterans who played together for quite a while. Sometimes it takes time for a player of that age, without much NHL experience, to find his way to a team like the Lightning. But ultimately, Hagel has made his way with the team, established a definitive role, and is poised to be one of the key elements in helping the Lightning reach their fourth straight Stanley Cup Final.

Robert M. Larson