Carl Hagelin has been a huge NHL success for the New York Rangers no matter how you look at it, and the upcoming season is shaping up to be another opportunity in which the speedy Swede will look to take advantage of.
The former Michigan Wolverine standout was drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL draft, and it is safe to say that no one thought Hagelin would emerge like he has. Last season the NHL's fastest skater notched 17 goals in a bottom-six role, and his timely production really helped bolster the Blueshirts' overall offensive depth in the regular season and playoffs.
Hagelin enters the season in a similar situation as last year, but can he build off last season's success with the Rangers? The Blueshirts made a number of moves to bolster their depth this summer, and to the untrained eye it would appear that these transactions would hurt Hagelin.
One would think that extra competition could lead to fewer opportunities, less playing time for Hagelin and a reduction in his effectiveness.
However, the opposite should reign true this season. There are four winger positions available in the top six. Wingers such as Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider are all candidates to occupy these roles.
Besides these forwards, there are players such as Lee Stempniak, Kevin Hayes, Matthew Lombardi, Hagelin and various others who will be fighting for a job.
By virtue of competition and surplus, not everyone deserving of a top-six role will get one, so that means they could slip to the bottom six to play with Hagelin. There is a chance that Nash, Zuccarello or St. Louis could end up in a third-line role, but for now we will stick to bottom-six forwards.
Last season Hagelin played on a line with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan, and their line was the second-most consistent line in terms of construction according to Left Wing Lock.
It is safe to say that Hagelin was held back a bit by playing with Richards—a forward who has never been fleet of foot—and Callahan, a player whose offensive game has been on decline over the past few years.
The combination of the two didn't exactly put Hagelin in a situation to succeed, but he still managed to tally 17 goals.
Part of the reason he was successful was because he had to do a lot of things on his own, and that will change this season. Hagelin will have more support in 2014-15, and while that could lead to him scoring fewer goals, he has the chance to be more productive in terms of points.
One likely line combo for the upcoming season would be a line of Hagelin, J.T. Miller and Lee Stempniak. You can interchange 6'5" power forward Kevin Hayes if you'd like, but in this situation Stempniak is a more likely option because of his experience and skill set.
This line would be perfect for Hagelin, and it would give him an opportunity to thrive. Hagelin's biggest strength is his speed and acceleration, which comes in handy on the forecheck and in the offensive zone when the puck is along the boards.
More often than not the Rangers ran set plays last year that involved utilizing Hagelin's speed so that he would beat an opponent to the puck before distributing the puck.
As noted above, Callahan and Richards were not ideal fits for Hagelin, so that led to Alain Vigneault using Benoit Pouliot with Hagelin at times, and that was a duo that had some success before the Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Pouliot line was put together.
In the above scenario, Hagelin would be paired with a speedy center who is capable defensively and offensively, and a winger with a shoot-first instinct.
Stempniak is no longer the sharpshooter he was earlier in his career, but at 31 he is still a very capable triggerman. The duo of Stempniak and Hagelin could be very efficient for the Rangers because they play off each other's strengths.
Miller is also another forward with solid skating ability and offensive upside. In due time he could prove to be a very nice player who could mesh with Hagelin's playing style.
Ultimately this will be another year in which Hagelin will have to fight for ice time. Last season his minutes went down to 15:31 a game after averaging 17:18 in 2012-13.
This year he may benefit from the team's new depth, because he will get quality ice time if Vigneault decides to use Nash or St. Louis in a limited even-strength role in order to utilize their talent on the power play.
No matter what the case is, Hagelin should rise to the challenge, because he has done nothing but work hard since joining the Rangers. Only time will tell how good Hagelin becomes, but there is no reason why he can't build off his success from 2013-14.
Unless noted, stats via Hockey-Reference.