VOORHEES, N.J. — Robert Hagg was asked to describe his brand of defenseman, the style in which he hopes to play at the NHL level.
So, first thing's first …
“Well, I’m not going to be a Ghost,” he said with a smile. “I can tell you that.”
While he may not be a Shayne Gostisbehere, he can relate. The two were together not too long ago, before Gostisbehere burst into a Calder Memorial Trophy runner-up once he got his chance in a Flyers jersey.
“Me and Ghost were pretty much in the same position last year when we got sent back down to Lehigh,” Hagg said, referring to training camp. “Look at Ghost last year, he had an unbelievable year. I’m real happy for him and that motivates yourself to be … like, you hope you’re the next guy to get called up and hopefully have the same career — it’s going to be tough.”
A week ago, Hagg was taking part in his fourth Flyers development camp, making him a veteran of sorts.
“I’m trying to help all the new guys know where to be and especially be on time,” he said.
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Did he learn that lesson the hard way?
“I’ve always been on time,” Hagg said firmly. “I’ve seen guys who haven’t been on time, and I don’t recommend it.”
He’s only 21 years old, but felt like an elder statesman. He also felt confident. After two seasons with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, the 6-foot-2, 201-pound blueliner feels ready for the Flyers.
“Absolutely,” he said.
“I don’t know the time, but hopefully I can get a shot this year, that’s my goal for the year. We will see.”
With big-name defensive prospects Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Sam Morin, Hagg has turned into a bit of forgotten man. The 2013 second-round pick is coming off his second season with the Phantoms in which he played 65 games, totaling five goals and six assists.
But numbers don’t tell the story.
While the aforementioned three and Gostisbehere were having strong 2015-16 seasons, Hagg was fighting through trying times. The Sweden native suffered an oblique injury during practice, one that was taxing both mentally and physically.
“I think I had pretty good start of the year and a good camp, and I got injured right in the beginning and was out for four, five weeks,” Hagg said. “When I came back, I couldn’t put it together. I don’t know what happened. So I had to start all over.
“It was pretty frustrating when you’re going out and you know what you’re able to do but you can’t get at it.”
Hagg credited Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson for steering him back on track.
“He helped me through this,” Hagg said. “I think the last two months, I got back to it and finished up pretty good.
“That’s some of the experiences you have to have. I think it was good for me.”
Given his development timeline, Hagg can be misperceived as much older and different from other prospects within the system. In actuality, he’s right on course.
“People forget about Robert. He’s still a young guy,” Flyers scouting director Chris Pryor said to CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio. “He’s made steps that may be not as big as people want to see, but he’s a growing guy. People forget how young he is.”
Come training camp in September, Hagg will try to show the Flyers everything he’s got. He won’t attempt to be Gostistbehere, but simply himself.
“I’m trying to be a two-way defender, that’s what I want to be,” he said. “I think a lot of teams need to have those types of players. I need to improve my whole game to be an NHL player, that’s a fact.”
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said players don’t necessarily win jobs in camp.
“A tryout is not two weeks long,” Hextall said. “How smart would I be if I started making decisions on two weeks? It’s the whole picture.
“There is no real formula for decisions you make. Quite honestly, a lot of it’s gut feel.”
After the conclusion of 2015-16, Hagg’s own gut felt good.
“I was pretty happy with the way I left the season, the last two months,” he said. “I felt if I just dig into it this summer and really push myself, I’m going to have a good shot during this camp, and we’ll see what’s happening after that.”