Hagg used surprise WJC spot to showcase skills
Robert Hagg wasn't part of Sweden's plan for the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. He ended up becoming one of their most important players, and at the same time thrust himself into consideration for teams picking early in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Hagg, a 6-foot-2.25, 204-pound defenseman, had 24 points in 28 games with Modo's junior team, but also played 27 games with the elite-league team.
"I started the season with Modo's under-20 team," Hagg told NHL.com. "I played games with them and I practiced with the big club. After a month or two, they called me up and told me I was going to play my first game for them.
"We met Farjestad in the home arena. My hand was just shaking."
He came through that game OK, but had just one assist and a minus-3 rating in the elite league.
However, scouts certainly took note, and NHL Central Scouting placed him eighth in its final ranking of European skaters for this year's draft.
"His attitude … I think he's very self-confident," NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. "He's a great skater, moves extremely well."
Hagg's greatest impact this season came at the World Juniors. He was the last player added to the roster, when a Sweden team already missing injured defensemen Jonas Brodin, Oscar Klefbom and Hampus Lindholm lost Jesper Pettersson in a pre-tournament exhibition game in late December.
The call from the Swedish hockey federation didn't leave Hagg with much time to pack.
"It was just go," he said. "I take the airplane the morning after [a game] and I went [home] to get my bag and back to the airport."
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He landed in Ufa, Russia for the tournament and immediately was thrust into the lineup. He had a goal and an assist in five games, and was one of the steadier performers for the team as it reached the championship game. Against the United States in the gold-medal game, Hagg was second on the team with four shots on goal, and took home a silver medal after a 3-1 loss.
"I've never had so much fun as I had there," Hagg said. "All the teammates, going to the games, everything like that."
While some might have been surprised by Hagg's performance, he said he was confident of what he could do if given the chance.
"I knew if I played like I should, I should be one of the best defenders on that team," he said.
Scouts certainly took notice and followed him more closely the rest of the season. It's part of the reason he was a popular player for NHL teams to speak with during the Scouting Combine.
"I showed them what I could do," he said of the WJC. "Showed my skills to them. It was a good opportunity."
Hagg said some of those skills were honed on the family's backyard rink in Uppsala, Sweden, where he would have battles with his older brother, Christian, a forward who played with Vasteras in Sweden's Allsvenskan last season.
He said there were plenty of fights for their parents to break up, but the brothers get along fine now. And the benefits of those games have furthered his development.
"We had the backyard rink and we'd shoot, and because of that I have a pretty good shot," Hagg said.
He plans on taking that shot to the NHL eventually. He doesn't think he's ready yet -- he has one more year left on his contract with Modo -- and believes he needs more time in the Swedish Elite League to further develop his skills.
"I would take a year or two in the Swedish leagues and we'll see what's happening," he said.
He will, though, be on hand at Prudential Center on June 30 to hear his name called. After attending last year's draft in Pittsburgh with his agent and fellow top 2013 Swedish draft prospect Jacob de la Rose, he's eager to be more than just a spectator this year.
"I talked with Craig Oster, my agent, and he said maybe I'd go between 15 and 45," Hagg said. "He doesn't really know. It's going to be a surprise when they call my name."
Won't be the first time Hagg provides a surprise this year.
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor