Shoot first and ask questions later. That gunslinger mentality is what Carl Hagelin, one of the NHL's fastest skaters, is aiming to do for the Rangers this season.
Despite missing the first 10 games of the 2013-14 season after undergoing shoulder surgery, the Swedish left wing had a breakout season with 17 goals in 72 regular-season games and seven in the playoffs.
This season Hagelin, 26, who played for Team Sweden in the Winter Olympics, has an opportunity to be more productive. To start, he will skate on the second line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, who developed a terrific rapport, and along with Benoit Pouliot often were the Blueshirts' most-effective trio.
Pouliot cashed in as a free agent after scoring 15 goals and 36 points, signing a $20-million contract with the Edmonton Oilers.
Enter Hagelin, who has tools beyond his wheels and is easily identifiable by the blond locks flowing from under his helmet. At the University of Michigan in 2010-11 he scored 18 goals and had 49 points in 44 games.
"They have some great chemistry," Hagelin said about his linemates, "and that passer-first mentality. So it's important, if I get the puck, I've got to make sure I'm shooting. I've got to make sure I'm a little bit selfish around the net. If I get a pass in that area, I'll probably be wide open, and probably have an opportunity to score. It's just a matter of getting someone on the inside. That's what Pouliot did well last year. I'm going to try to get in those spots a little bit more."
Hagelin, who uses his high-end speed to get on the forecheck, doesn't have the size of the 6-3, 195-pound Pouliot, but he can find seams quickly and isn't afraid of traffic.
"Last year, shooting more was one of the things I did work on," Hagelin said. "You score a lot of ugly goals in this league. I need to continue to do that. Don't be scared to take shots that might not look like a great opportunity. A lot of good things can happen. The best thing is that it goes in, but if it goes in the corner, maybe Zuke or Brass picks it up and finds someone open."
When injured center Derek Stepan returns in November, the top nine forwards will shuffle again, and Hagelin could be relocated.
"Hags is not the same type of player Benny was," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He brings a different kind of skill set. So we have to figure out -- if we're going to keep those two [Brassard and Zuccarello] together- -- where the other piece goes in."
For Hagelin, the trick will be to mix in more shots with the blazing style that forces defenders into mistakes. "I still need to be myself," he said, "but there's always things I can learn, like to drive the net. I can definitely go there more often and get screens and tips."