Through early struggles, Robert Hagg steadied his NHL dream

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Defenseman Robert Hagg is expected to stick with the Flyers this season.

Once Robert Hagg made the plays that wowed the crowds. Big home run passes, skating through people, gasps abounding. “Back then I wanted so much to prove myself,” he said of his first few seasons as a defenseman in the AHL. “Hey, look at my fancy play. I can make it tape to tape, blue line to blue line.

“Now it’s much more, just make the simple pass. That’s going to be the quickest way and get going.”

These days his game is best described as dependable. “That can be sexy,” he said Tuesday, laughing.

He is 22 now, but like many targeted to reshape the Flyers, Hagg’s name and game are not unfamiliar. A flashy player in his teen years with a body that could, he said, “bulldoze” his peers, Hagg struggled in his second season with the Phantoms after a promising first season that, he said, surprised even him.

What Hagg learned in the second year was to abandon sexy for steady, a mode that was on display Sunday night. Hagg and Ivan Provorov were probably the team’s most dependable defensemen that night, and not by accident.

“I didn’t try to do anything fancy,” he said. “I played the puck when I had it. Tried to make the simple play. It wasn’t something fancy, but I was kind of happy with myself. Just go out there play the game. Play simple, play hard …”

Play yourself onto an NHL roster and into your lifelong dream. Hagg is projected to be one of the rookie defensemen on the Flyers when they open in San Jose on Oct. 4, and largely because he has altered his game. Use the body. Make the simple play. Singles, not home runs. “It is a tough adjustment,” he said. “You’re not going to change it overnight. And you have to understand: Do you want to be a good American League player? Or do you want to be in the NHL?

“I know a couple guys like that. They want to play their own game. Sure, if you want to do that, that’s fine with me. If I’m not good enough to play the game I could play as a junior, then I’m not going to make my goal of playing in the NHL. I have to find a way to be successful in kind of a different way to make it all the way.

“… Right now I’m playing with Ghost [Shayne Gostisbehere]. If I can make him look good, that makes me look good. If he’s shining out there, I’m going to be part of that, too. I just try to make my teammates better.

“You have to find a way. My dream is to play in the NHL. And you have to find a way to get there. It’s not the way I thought it would be. But my focus is to get to the NHL and make a career of it. And somehow it doesn’t matter which way.”

Notes

Wayne Simmonds was a healthy scratch for the second day in a row. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol called it a “maintenance day.” … Moving Giroux to the left side could allow the Flyers to start the season with Valterri Filppula as their second-line center and slide Nolan Patrick to the third line, taking a little heat off the rookie, who turned 19 Tuesday. Filppula was acquired at the trade deadline last season, before the Flyers lucked out with the No. 2 overall pick and Nolan Patrick. Although general manager Ron Hextall touted Filppula as a versatile player last week, he also called him “a really good centerman.” The Flyers have moved a lot of players around in camp thus far, but Filppula has played only at center.