VOORHEES, N.J. -- All things considered, Robert Hagg believes the 50 games he played in Europe for top tier Modo last season were a tutorial for coming to North America this fall.
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound defensive prospect was the Flyers' second-round pick in the 2013 draft and is expected to play with the Phantoms this season.
“There are a lot of professionals in Sweden, but I feel it’s best for me to get over here,” Hagg said Friday, as Flyers development camp continued at Skate Zone.
“Learn the game here. My goal is to play in the NHL. I will learn more if I play in the American Hockey League than the one or two years before that.”
There is a fascinating dynamic going on with the Flyers right now and it will continue to unfold for the next several years as more than a dozen defensemen vie to make the NHL cut.
Hagg, Shayne Gostisbehere and Samuel Morin are in the top tier of drafted players closest to transitioning to the NHL level, but as general manager Ron Hextall points out, none of these prospects will be rushed, even if it means the Flyers' blue line suffers a while longer for lack of youth and more speed.
This is a development camp where training and nutrition are emphasized and prospects get to size each other up in workouts and fundamental drills before training camp opens in September.
“The main reason Hagg is coming over here is he has to get used to playing North American hockey and the smaller ice surface,” director of player development Kjell Samuelsson, who scouted Hagg in Europe, said.
“He played 1 1/2 years in the elite league and he is used to playing against full grown men. Maybe not as physical, but he played against stronger guys.”
A former Flyers defenseman himself, Samuelsson projects Hagg as a guy who can handle the second-unit power play and first-unit penalty kill. What he likes best is the Swede’s skating ability and all-around game.
“His strength is on the defensive side,” Samuelsson said.
The left-handed Hagg -- he pronounces it “Haig” -- knows full well who he is up against and who his competition is to nail a spot on the Flyers' roster in the year(s) ahead.
“It’s fun,” Hagg said. “A lot of great guys. You have to compete every day to beat them. It’s good for me to have some guys at the same level. It helps me.
“All the defensemen have different kinds of play. Like Morin is more a defensive defender. Gos is more of an offensive defender and I see myself as more of a two-way defender.
“It’s all kind of different roles they have picked. I have not seen the guy they took this year, [Travis] Sanheim. I don’t know anything about him.”
Hagg has the physical tools and correctly sees himself as a two-way defenseman who does not specialize in any one aspect, though he worked more on his defensive game in Europe.
“He can do a little bit of everything,” Samuelsson said when asked what separates Hagg from the others.
Hagg is sturdily-built -- physically bigger than Gostisbehere -- and believes the 10 games he spent with the Phantoms last spring were vital in convincing him he had to get into the AHL this fall.
“It was good,” he said. “It’s happening more times. You have to be prepared for every shift there. I think it is more fun to play over here (North America). It’s more physical. You get scoring chances from everywhere.
“This is the right time for me to get over here. Every player is different in development. This year is the right time for me.”
Hagg admitted his overall game needs to be more consistent and feels he made advances from playing with Modo’s “B” unit two years ago to its top club last season.
“Of course, if you are playing with a junior in Modo you are playing different than the A team in Modo,” he said. "[I’m] more consistent than last year, and I will need to be even more consistent to get this spot with the Flyers. I am on my way and we’ll see what happens.”
The season in Europe is 55 games and is obviously longer in the AHL. Hagg said his weight is enough to handle the extra games without incurring a loss in strength.
“I hope so, but we’ll know in June,” he said.
Interestingly, like the other defensive prospects, Hagg doesn’t feel the pressure to get to the NHL level right away. He has a tactical plan.
“Just get in a great mood and feel comfortable,” Hagg said. “That is my goal for this camp. Then in September at the training camp, my goal is to take a spot.”