Most Intriguing Player in Lightning Training Camp

The original title of this article, in fact the original concept as a whole, was “Why Brandon Hagel is the most important player for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season”. On reflection, it is not. We all know it is not. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s most important player is Andrei Vasilevskiy. It always has been and always will be until the end of his contract after the 2027-28 season. No vasy – no cup. That being said, Brandon Hagel could be the key cog in making the Lightning offense work this season.

As one of the big picks at the trade deadline, much was expected of the 24-year-old who had scored 21 goals in 55 games for a poor Chicago hockey club. The Lightning paid a heavy price to get him out of Windy City, handing out Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh and two conditional first-round picks to him. Did it live up to those expectations? Type of. Offensive production wasn’t at the level he generated with Chicago, but that was expected as he transitioned from playing on the front line to more of a mid-six role with the Lightning. He also saw his power play time drop to literally 0 minutes after averaging about two minutes per game with Chicago.

So it’s understandable that his scoring rates went down a bit when he joined the Bolts. Add to that the adjustment period that accompanies teams in transition and you can see why his goalscoring rate has been cut nearly in half (1.3 G/60 with Chicago and 0.8 G/60 with Tampa Bay) . Now, with 45 games under his belt with the Lightning if you include the playoffs, a summer break and a full training camp with the team, he should be a little better acclimated.

Although his offense was not at the same level as the Chicago Hockey Club, in terms of puck possession, he did exactly what the Lightning wanted him to do. In 22 regular season games with the Bolts, Hagel posted a 54.1% shot attempt share (vs. 48.89% with Chicago) and an expected goal share of 52.33% (44.94% with Chicago). It’s always a plus when you see those numbers above the 50% mark.

His shot attempt share dipped a bit in the playoffs (48.90%), as did a lot of Lightning players (only Riley Nash, Brayden Point and Alex Killorn posted positive shot share numbers), but his expected goals were around the same level. he posted in the regular season with the Lightning (52.53%). So, he aligned with what the Lightning wanted him to do and it’s safe to say he was only a little unlucky when it came to scoring goals. Also, although he had no mention in the list of injuries suffered by the team after the playoffs, he was definitely struggling with some kind of illness that seemed to affect his speed on the ice.

Despite being a left winger by trade, he spent most of last year on the right side, facing Alex Killorn with Anthony Cirelli in the middle (that’s true of the regular season and the playoffs) . In the frontline rushes of training camp this season (don’t read too much first day on ice, don’t overprepare first day on ice, don’t overprepare first day on ice) he was back on the right side with Nick Paul in the middle and Alex Killorn on the left side.

Right now, that would be the nominal second line with Coach Cooper at full throttle with a Steven Stamkos-Brayden Point-Nikita Kucherov front line. Therein lies the problem of not re-signing Ondrej Palat. The Lightning will need someone to step up and provide the offense (18 goals, 31 assists) that Palat provided last season. They will also need it to come from a second line. Depth has always been a key factor in their success. If the front line is in a funk, Coach Cooper has always had the option of mixing things up or relying on the second or third lines to find the goals. With Palat in New Jersey and Anthony Cirelli through November or December, that depth has thinned. Also expect a slight setback in Alex Killorn’s career season.

The Lightning will need Hagel or Nick Paul to fill that void. One of them has to step in and play a role in the top six and provide a consistent offense. The last six will be fine. The Pat Maroon – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Corey Perry school bus line will do what it does while there are plenty of pieces that fit into a third line with Ross Colton, Vlad Namestnikov, Cole Koepke, Gemel Smith, Paul and others suited for this role.

If Hagel stays on the right side and gives the Lightning an option to score on the second line, that’s wonderful. He has the potential to score 20 goals even with minimal power play time and that’s a valuable production coming from a second-line forward. It would also take some pressure off the front line if opponents had to focus on other players on the ice a bit.

However, what if Hagel returns to the left side of the ice and claims a front row spot with Point and Kucherov? In Chicago, he played with a playmaker similar to Kucherov in Patrick Kane and they were on the ice for 12 goals together at 5-5 last season. If Hagel can claim that role, it also allows Coach Cooper to return Stamkos to his natural position in the middle of the ice on the second line and frees the captain from some of the tougher defensive pairings.

We pretty much know what we get out of the rest of the team if they stay healthy. Stamkos and Point will be in the 30-40 goal range, Kucherov will work his magic on his way to another 100+ point season, Killorn will add his 40 points, and so on. Hagel, and to a lesser extent Nick Paul, are the big question marks over their output. If Hagel can maintain the possession stats we saw last season with the Bolts, while adding the goal production he had in Chicago, then a lot of offensive questions will be answered for the team and they will keep their place. among the Eastern Conference elite. .

Robert M. Larson