Second City Hockey’s 2021-22 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2021. The rankings are determined by a composite score from all four SCH writers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. All four ballots will be released after the series is completed.
Brandon Hagel has become a fan favorite almost as fast as he skates up and down the ice.
During a season when the Blackhawks faced their fair share of adversity, the emergence of Hagel (or .38 Special, as I’ve so lovingly adorned him) was a bright spot and a pleasant surprise during the 2021 season. Hagel’s on ice success took him from No. 17 in last year’s rankings all the way up to No. 6.
So what led to this?
First and foremost, the most evident weapon in Hagel’s arsenal is his speed. The way the league has trended over the past decade, speed continues to be more and more vital. For Hagel, though, speed alone is not the reason he found success in his rookie season. In his 52 games during the 2021 campaign, Hagel scored 9 goals and 15 assists. The then 22-year-old’s 24 points were fifth most on the team and can be attributed to one key factor: awareness.
Hagel is fast, he hustles and works hard on each shift. But the most promising factor, which separates him from other prospects, is his on-ice awareness. Hagel knows where he needs to be, gets to those spots in a hurry and also plays very well when away from the puck. Although Hagel’s ceiling may not be quite as high as other prospects in the Blackhawks’ system, the reason he shot so far up this list is because Hagel has proven that he can compete at the NHL level while the majority of players underneath are still unproven commodities. Hagel plays well in all three zones and can be slotted in on almost any line. He made the most of his 13:59 average time on ice per game and earned a 3-year contract extension worth a total of $4.5 million.
#Blackhawks signed Brandon Hagel to a 3 year contract worth $4,500,000 ($1,500,000 AAV).— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) August 6, 2021
The deal buys Chicago 1 10.2.c year, 1 RFA year, and 1 RFA Arb year.
Hagel will be an RFA with Arb rights when his new deal expires in 2024.https://t.co/gNFId0cy6J
The Blackhawks faithful have all been singing the praises of Hagel, but that doesn't mean he’s a finished product. The main area of work remaining for the left winger is to focus on is his shot. He finished his rookie season with a 9.9 shooting percentage on 91 shots. Thanks to his speed, Hagel is often the first forward into the offensive zone and that leads to plenty of shot opportunities. But Hagel has struggled to pick his corners: many of his shots hit opposing netminders in the chest as if they're wearing a target. This factor also appeared to steer Hagel into a pass-first mentality, even when he had the open shot. If Hagel can find a way to make his shot more likely to find the back of the net, he’ll be an even bigger weapon during his second season.
Hagel was a joy to watch in 2021 and will be a player to keep an eye on during the upcoming season. With the Hawks improved forward depth and some adjustments to his shot, Hagel can be even more useful and morph into the type of player the Blackhawks — and any quality NHL team — need more of: the sneaky bottom-six guys who often make the difference in the playoffs.
Make no mistake about it, there is definitely something special about No. 38.