ST. PAUL, Minn. — It’s easy to forget that Robert Hagg is just a 22-year-old rookie because he has looked so smooth in his varied roles during the Flyers’ first 17 games.
Hagg, a second-round selection in the 2013 draft, was more of a stay-at-home defenseman when he was paired with offensive-minded Shayne Gostisbehere earlier in the season.
An injury to Andrew MacDonald, however, caused coach Dave Hakstol to move Hagg onto the top pairing, alongside the multi-talented Ivan Provorov.
Yes, the Flyers coach has already gained lots of trust in Hagg. Enough trust to have him playing against opponents’ top scorers.
“I think he’s done a good job. He and Provy have built some chemistry quickly, which is important when you’re playing against top groups,” Hakstol said before Tuesday’s game in Minnesota. “Some of the lines they’ve played against have had a different look — whether it’s a big, heavy line or a skilled line that moves the puck very well. There’s always a little bit of a different element, and for that, I give Hagger a lot of credit. This is his first time through the league, and his knowledge for what he’s up against on that given day has been good.”
MacDonald will skate Wednesday in Winnipeg for the first time since he suffered a leg injury Oct. 21. He could return as early as Saturday against Calgary, but Tuesday against Vancouver is more likely.
Hakstol isn’t sure if MacDonald will go back with Provorov when he returns. “I don’t have an answer one way or another yet on that,” the coach said. “I think there’s a couple possibilities there.”
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Hagg entered Tuesday with a plus-9 rating, second on the team to Sean Couturier’s plus-14, and he led NHL rookies with 59 hits.
The Sweden native spent three-plus years with the Phantoms, and says NHL players are “much smarter and much more skilled. They’re stronger on pucks. Everything is at the next step.”
That said, he hasn’t looked out of place, and he plays with the calmness of a veteran.
Hagg said it doesn’t matter to him if he plays with Gostisbehere or Provorov when MacDonald returns. He enjoys playing alongside both players.
“It’s a little bit different,” he said of his role with each defenseman. “Ghost is probably one of the best [defensemen] in the league offensively … and I’m yelling at him, ‘Get up, get up,’ ” while Hagg stays back on defense.
With Provorov, Hagg and his partner can both take turns jumping into the offense. And Hagg likes the extra defensive challenge. “I like playing against top lines and trying to shut those guys down,” he said.
Center Nolan Patrick, who has missed nine games because of a concussion, took part in practice Tuesday and skated for a little over an hour. “I’m just trying to get my cardio back; that’s the main thing,” said Patrick, who hasn’t been ruled out for Thursday’s game in Winnipeg, his home city. … Entering Tuesday, the Flyers had outscored opponents, 30-24, in five-on-five play.