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Speed the key to success of Penguins left winger Carl Hagelin | TribLIVE.com
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Speed the key to success of Penguins left winger Carl Hagelin

Tribune-Review
| Friday, September 29, 2017 7:12 p.m
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Carl Hagelin plays against the Sabres on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, at PPG Arena.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Carl Hagelin plays against the Sabres Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 at PPG Arena.

Penguins left winger Carl Hagelin admits the speed he brings to the rinks of the NHL is partially a product of good fortune.

“You need the right genetics,” he said.

But that’s where the luck stops for Hagelin. Growing up in the small town of Nykvarn, Sweden (50 minutes south of Stockholm, population 6,000), he often stayed on the ice after practice, working on starts and stops. He also ran hills with his older (by four years) brother, Bobbie, a scout for the Calgary Flames.

“That gave me good explosiveness,” he said.

“I think he was about 14 when he asked me if I could help him with that,” Bobbie Hagelin told ESPN.com. “And he has the capacity to work. And he’s smart.”

Speed was important to Hagelin’s game because he was one of the smaller players.

“As I grew up, I found some weight (now up to 186 pounds), got a lot taller (5-foot-11) and that, obviously, helped my speed.”

He’s fast enough now that Penguins coach Mike Sullivan can put him almost anywhere on the ice. Friday at practice, Hagelin manned the left wing on the third line next to center Greg McKegg, with Bryan Rust on the other flank.

He also has played on the second line with Evgeni Malkin, who had Scott Wilson on his left side, with Phil Kessel on the right.

“Haggy plays the same game regardless of where we put him,” Sullivan said. “He brings that element of speed, puck pursuit, forces turnovers. He’s a responsible player.

“He’s a really good two-way player. He can play in his own end zone. He has good awareness away from the puck. He has that defensive conscious that he brings to the line that he plays on.”

Sometimes, players get trapped in the offensive zone while the puck goes the other way, but Sullivan said Hagelin can counteract that problem with his speed.

“He has the speed to catch up to the rush and get back into it,” Sullivan said. “He brings all those things.”

Sullivan isn’t worried as much about who skates on Malkin’s left as he is how it will affect the rest of the team.

“It’s not about that line,” he said. “It’s about the balance. We have our eye on more than just who fits with Geno and Phil. It’s about who fits within our group that makes us the most difficult team to play against.

“We’re trying to use different people and see what we might stumble on.”

Wilson said he eventually fit well with Malkin last year, recording three goals and three assists in the playoffs.

“I started the year with them last year and kind of got away from my game, which didn’t help the line out,” Wilson said. “In the playoffs, I got back to being physical, shooting the puck and kind of being first in there.

“Those are the three biggest things I need to keep in mind when I’m playing with those guys.”

Hagelin said he’ll play next to anyone. Former Rangers coach John Tortorella used to bounce him from line to line, too, when he was in New York.

“I’m just always trying to find my game,” Hagelin said. “If I play the way I want to play, the points are going to come.

“For me, it’s a matter of playing at a high pace and making sure I’m winning the puck battles.”

Even if it’s on one healthy leg.

Hagelin broke his leg in Winnipeg on March 8 last season and played in Edmonton two nights later. He missed time but played in 15 playoff games — most of them before the leg healed — and scored two goals.

Asked if the broken leg cost him a step of his speed, he said, “Absolutely not.”

“You want your leg to feel good, which it did the last two or three games of the playoffs,” he said. “That’s when I started playing the game I know I can play.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

Categories: Penguins
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