By Larry Wigge
Phil Kessel used his speed to get a break down right wing. He's got a step on the defender, while Carl Hagelin is headed down middle with 15 seconds remaining in the second period.
The scene was set, with the clock is running down ... 14 ... 13 ... 12 ...
Kessel peaks back and sees Hagelin ... and the clock.
He shoots and Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevsky makes the save ... but the rebound ... comes out to Hagelin for a goal with 10 seconds left in the second period to break up a scoreless tie.
"He's fast. He's smart ... He creates space and makes plays," said Kessel of his linemate Hagelin.
The Penguins made it 2-0 when Kessel slammed in a pass by Nick Bonino past Vasilevsky with the earlier assist from Hagelin five minutes into the third period. The little known third line for Pittsburgh had made a difference in what proved to be a 4-2 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan acknowledged that skating is the foundation of Hagelin's game is ...
"His speed jumps out at you and that's what everybody talks about," he said. "His speed is his competitive advantage."
But it doesn't end there, said Sullivan.
"He has the ability to play with top players because his hockey sense is pretty good," Sullivan continued. "He sees the ice pretty well. He has the ability to make plays and distribute the puck.
"He helps his linemates get the puck back and keep the puck through his quickness and his speed."
Hagelin didn't start the season with the Penguins. He was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks for David Perron and Adam Clendening on January 16.
Small trade ... with big results. The Penguins went 27-10 to finish the season.
In those 37 games, Hagelin 10 goals and seven assists to finish the season with 14 goals and 25 assists. In the playoffs, he has added five goals and six assists in 14 games.
"We really push the pace and we don't like to sit back," said Hagelin. "We try to play north-south with a lot of speed, and try to be aggressive on the forecheck. That's where we've scored a lot of goals as of late."
Sullivan based his opinions on Hagelin when he was an assistant coach for the New York Rangers -- where Hagelin has broken in with.
"I felt strongly based on my experience with Haggy that he would be a good fit here," Sullivan explained. "When you look at the core players, their competitive advantage is their speed: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, those guys, they all want to play a fast game. I thought Carl, his foot speed, would complement that group."
Patric Hornqvist said, "Hagelin's wheels help the entire squad. Oh man, with him in the lineup, it's like he sets a pace, it's like we all play a whole lot faster."
By the time he enrolled at the University of Michigan, the word was out about Hagelin. The Rangers drafted the Swede in the sixth round, 168th pick, of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, getting what they believed was a late-round steal because he was only 5-11, 186 pounds.
From his first day at Michigan, Hagelin emerged as something of a legend for his performance in Coach Red Berenson's infamously grueling conditioning drills. As part of their offseason workouts, Berenson's players run 15 races each day up and down the bleachers at Michigan Stadium, the university's gigantic football venue. In one race, the players might have to climb the stands two steps at a time; in another, they might have to hop on two legs from one step to the next. "We'd have kids puking and passing out," Berenson said. "Carl never lost a race in four years."
The first Swede for the Wolverines, Hagelin led the school all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four title game, where Michigan fell to Minnesota-Duluth in a 3-2 overtime, heart-breaker on April 9, 2011.
Growing up in Sodertalje, Hagelin was surrounded by athletics. His father, Boris, had been a member of Sweden's national golf team. His sister played Division-III golf and basketball and was on Sweden's junior national hoops team and his older brother Bobbie, now 27, starred for Sodertalje's Under-20 team before reaching the Elitserien for a brief pro hockey career that began in 2003-04.
The Swedish team featuring a young Peter Forsberg won the Olympic gold medal in 1994 when Hagelin was five years old, and as Forsberg developed into an NHL star, Hagelin followed his career in earnest.
"I didn't like the Red Wings back then, even though they had a lot of Swedes and my dad loved the Wings," Hagelin recalled. "I loved Colorado because Peter Forsberg played there."
Last fall, Hagelin was playing for the Rangers, who reportedly couldn't afford to pay him -- trading him to Anaheim in a draft day trade for Emerson Etem.
According to Hagelin, his older brother, Bobbie (now a scout for the Calgary Flames) had become the lynchpin to his career when he was 16.
Bobbie encouraged Carl to join in an offseason workout that year.
"He pushed me," Hagelin remembered. "That summer I grew. It was a combination of growing and having a great role model in my brother."
That's how Hagelin earned a spot on Sodertalje SK's under-18 and junior teams and attracted the attention of Rangers scouts Jan Gajdosik and Chris Rockstrom. The Rangers picked in the sixth round, largely based on the speed he had developed at the rinks and gym with Bobbie in what became a grueling annual summer training program.
"His conditioning is just unbelievable," director of player personnel Gordie Clark said. "Most guys do a 50-, 60-second shift (and then go off). He can go a minute and a half and still have gas in his tank."
At the draft, Clark said he also had been confident that Hagelin's conditioning only would improve by playing for the University of Michigan.
From there, it was up to Carl Hagelin to star in Red Berenson's grueling conditioning drills.
Ironically, it took a 4,135-mile return trip to his hometown of Sodertalje.