PITTSBURGH — He’s sported jerseys from three different teams since this time a year ago.
There was the Rangers home blue, which he was wearing last April 24, when his shot past Marc-Andre Fleury while falling in the right faceoff circle capped an overtime win that eliminated the Penguins in Game 5 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
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This fall, he wore the colors of the Anaheim Ducks, where he landed in a draft day trade for Emerson Etem.
And here was Carl Oliver Hagelin on Wednesday, with the long blond hair of a surfer untethered from his helmet, sitting in a locker room wearing the black-and-gold of the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he was shipped on Jan. 18.
Now he’s back in the playoffs, this time with old friends becoming on-ice foes in Game 1 Wednesday night.
It is the first time in the last three showdowns with the Penguins that No. 62 is on the other side.
“As soon as I got here, I had a feeling this was going to happen,” said Hagelin, the 27-year-old Swede who was Americanized at the University of Michigan and sped across the Madison Square Garden ice for four seasons before he became, in the mind and pockets of Rangers’ management, too expensive to keep at an anticipated $4 million per season for four years.
He’s bought into the Steel City as well, he says.
Still, with 58 goals, 72 assists and above all, the remarkable speed, Hagelin left his mark in Manhattan with fans and his teammates.
Along with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, the trio made videos at the Bronx Zoo. They tasted the nightlife in Soho. And they cried when Zuccarello was in a hospital bed, wires running into his head after sustaining a skull fracture on a shot in the same playoff game that Hagelin won in overtime.
For Hagelin, at least, it’s not the first encounter with those memories. “We’ve played them four times during the season,” he said. “It’s going to be a really good series. I’ve been on the other side, it’s new personnel, new players.”
With the Penguins, Hagelin was welcomed for his personality and performance. The Penguins have gone 27-9-1 since Jan. 21, and Hagelin has put up 10 goals and 17 assists.
“He’s been a big part of this team and its success in the last couple months,” said coach Mike Sullivan, the former Rangers assistant coach. “I knew what we were getting. He can play up and down the lineup, he can play with top players, the checking line, he kills penalties. He plays valuable minutes for us. He’s a good person, a good teammate. His performance speaks volumes, he brings that element of speed and puck pursuit — to bring the puck back when we don’t have it.”
About the only place where Hagelin doesn’t skate is on the power play, where coach former Rangers coach John Tortorella refused to put him, calling him “a jitterbug.” Not that the Penguins, with Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel and defenseman Kris Letang need any help there anyway.
“He fits in the room, he fits on every line, he’s fast, really important on our PK,” said Letang. “He’s scary to play against. When you have a guy with that much speed, you have to watch your back. He makes you play a little bit on your heels.”
Patric Hornqvist said Hagelin’s wheels help the entire squad: “Oh man, with him in the lineup, it’s like he sets a pace, it’s like we all play a whole lot faster.”