Penguins’ Carl Hagelin not slowing down for 500th NHL game
Every so often, 32-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin will joke that he’s getting older and slower and is doing all he can just to keep up with the next generation of fleet-footed players coming into the league.
Don’t bring that noise to 30-year-old winger Carl Hagelin.
The swift Swede will play the 500th regular season game of his career Saturday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he’s not worried about keeping pace with the kids.
“I’m just getting started, man,” Hagelin said with a laugh.
Hagelin has widely been considered one of the fastest players in the game since he debuted as a 23-year-old with the New York Rangers in 2011.
He won the fastest skater contest at the 2012 NHL ALL-Star Game and a 2014 study showed he skated at top speed for a larger percentage of his ice time than anyone else in the league.
A few years later, his skating remains the envy of players around the league.
“Absolutely,” teammate Bryan Rust said. “He’s definitely still one of the fastest in the game. His first three strides, he’s so explosive. He gets up to top speed so quick. I definitely don’t think he’s lost a step.”
Hagelin said the biggest change he’s seen in the NHL game over the past 500 games is that the defensemen he’s playing against can skate now, too.
“Back then, I think each team would have had two or three big D that weren’t great at skating, but they were good at reading the play, good at playing physical, good at doing what they had to do in front of the net to prevent goals,” Hagelin said. “I think that’s where it starts.”
For Hagelin, the 500-game milestone is a time for reflection.
“I spoke to my dad and my brother yesterday about it,” Hagelin said. “It’s gone by quick. It’s one of those days where you look back at your career and what you’ve done and what you’ve been able to be a part of and how much fun you’ve had.”
The number is also a little misleading.
Counting playoffs, he’s actually played 620 games since making his NHL debut Nov. 25, 2011. That’s the most in the league in that span, three ahead of Carolina’s Justin Williams and 23 in front of teammates Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard.
“It’s a lot of hockey,” he said with a smile.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.