It’s no surprise that Brandon Hagel became a fan-favorite this season with his high-effort, puck-hound tendencies and great transition play. There’s optimism that the winger could build on this season to be an important piece for the Blackhawks’ future, but where is his ideal spot in a lineup?
Hagel came to Chicago as a free agent signing in June 2018 after the Buffalo Sabres — the team that drafted Hagel — were unable to sign him. The Blackhawks prospect pool wasn’t exactly deep after the Cup winning years, so they turned to scooping up young players with potential through any means necessary, and Hagel was one such player. As a former sixth-round pick from the 2016 draft who only broke out in terms of scoring in the WHL as an over-ager, the expectations for Hagel were low among the Blackhawks fan base. However, his stock rose pretty quick: first by becoming the MVP of the Rockford IceHogs in 2019-20 and then as a top rookie for the Blackhawks this season. Suffice it to say that Hagel won over a lot of doubters through his consistent and relentless play with and without the puck.
So if this season was about evaluating young players, the Blackhawks have seemingly found a useful gem in Hagel. But the question remains: just how useful is he and in what role is he best utilized? We’ve covered his individual micro stats extensively (in the Young Gun series) and the Blackhawks shot quantity and quality numbers are bad at the team level, so let’s keep it simple to by comparing Hagel’s points to typical NHL line production to see where he might fit.
Below are the average point ranges for winger production by line in the NHL over the last five seasons.
- First line: 55 points to 108 in all situations, 39 to 66 at 5-on-5
- Second line: 30 to 55 in all situations, 28 to 42 at 5-on-5
- Third line: 16 to 30 in all situations, 15 to 26 at 5-on-5
- Fourth line: 5 to 16 in all situations, 5 to 15 at 5-on-5
Important caveat to these numbers is they are based on ranking of players and not necessarily on time-on-ice. The top 31 right and left wingers, respectively, in terms of production were considered first-line, the second 31 were considered second-line, and so on. Then the ranges were determined by averaging the the last five season totals for right and left wingers. This does mean that some teams — such as Boston with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak — will have a second-line winger based on time-on-ice that falls into the first-line category for production. This typically balances out through a lineup — even one that is a legit contender — and for the league since there are some teams with top-line players who would classify lower on other teams. That’s also why some of these ranges might seem somewhat low.
Now, let’s look at Hagel’s points breakdown for the season:
- In all situations: 0.46 point-per-game which projects to about 38 points in 82 games
- At 5-on-5: 0.31 point-per-game which projects to about 25 points in 82 games
Based on points alone, Hagel was somewhere between a third and second line producer, leaning toward the lower line overall which is as expected.
However, the role in which Hagel played dramatically shifted throughout the season, and as a result, his production came almost exclusively in the latter half of the season. His production during that period was:
- In all situations: 0.59 point-per-game which projects to about 48 points in 82 games
- At 5-on-5: 0.38 point-per-game which projects to about 31 points in 82 games
So obviously Hagel’s role shift impacted his production and showed he could be more than a fourth-line, defensively deployed player. This may seem like a no-brainer: playing in a more offensive role with higher quality of teammates is bound to increase a players’ points. But that’s not a given, as Blackhawks fans have seen over the years (see: Kampf, David; Kruger, Marcus).
Now, Hagel’s production did come primarily when paired with Dominik Kubalik, with whom Hagel spent a little over a third of his total season time (242:25) and about 60 percent in the second half (129:26). But it’s important to note that Hagel’s overall quality of teammate was in the 20th percentile in the league according to TopDownHockey. That can be attributed to Hagel’s most common linemate being Kampf (276:40 of ice time together), who is a useful defensive specialist but is also an offensive black hole. Hagel did spend considerable time skating with Kubalik, although those two were joined by Kampf as the third linemate for over half of the time that Hagel and Kubalik were on a line together. Over the final 28 games, Hagel spent almost 60 percent of his ice time with Kampf (127:43).
All of this is to say that Hagel’s quality of linemates this season was overall poor.
But when he was put in a position with other players who were offensively minded, Hagel’s contributions were stronger, which suggests he can compliment and positively impact higher skilled players.
Overall, Hagel’s even-strength offense goals above replacement — which attempts to measure the overall value of a player in goals offensively in a single number — was in the 52nd percentile for the league. That’s decent for a player with such low QoT and varied usage. There’s no doubt that his finishing isn’t great (47th percentile), but that too picked up at the end of the season. Hagel’s primary assists per 60 rate was better than average (53rd percentile), and he did all of this while facing some of the highest quality of competition (87th percentile), which didn’t downtick much even away from Kampf.
With a shortened season and such extremes in quality of linemates, it’s hard to really project what Hagel’s ceiling is in the future, but his production combined with his individual micro stats leads me to the following conclusion: Hagel’s ideal role is as a third-line player on a contending team but he could be a second-line player given the right linemates and situation.
In this way, the comparisons to Andrew Shaw are apt in that Hagel could be a Swiss-army knife type of skater who plays up and down the lineup. Even their production is similar at the same age:
- Shaw, age 22: 0.49 points-per-game which projects to about 40 points in 82 games
Shaw already had 85 NHL games under his belt by then and played with a vastly superior Blackhawks team, so the 0.03 points-per-game difference overall seems pretty negligible. However, Shaw also didn’t get close to 0.5 points-per-game again until he was 27, when he played top-six with the Montreal Canadiens. So again, production isn’t guaranteed to be on a consistent incline for all players. There are some indicators that Hagel could be consistent — such as his play-driving abilities — but if Hagel is only just as useful as Shaw was before being derailed by concussions, that wouldn’t be a bad career at all.
Not matter where Hagel ends up in the lineup, even if it is in a defensive fourth-line role, he has the skills and will that suggests he’ll excel. And while the stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are the basis of a Cup contending team, it’s often the players like Shaw and Hagel that can give those contenders an edge to push them into winners.