Brandon Hagel summed up his season as it winds down this way: “I’ve done a pretty good job so far. It’s only my first year. I’ve only played 48 games. So I’m just trying to learn and get better.”
To him, 48 games — 49 after Tuesday — doesn’t seem like a lot. And in one sense, it’s not. It’s barely more than half of a normal-length NHL season. But in a 56-game season, especially one in which he wasn’t necessarily expected to be a regular participant, it is a lot.
The Hawks, looking back on this season as a source of many positives — even as it ends with a whimper — have so many players in similar boats.
Rookie forwards Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev have played 52 and 51 games, respectively, after Tuesday. Rookie defenseman Ian Mitchell has played 37. Rookie goalie Kevin Lankinen has played 36. Rookie defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk has played in the last 17.
“Going into the year, we had all these young guys, [but] we weren’t sure how they were going to react to the opportunity,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We probably thought ... [they’d be] getting games in Rockford and just getting spotted in, getting a taste of the league and ... setting themselves up for next season to break through.
“But to their credit, almost all of them have had 15- to 20-game stretches where they’ve been outstanding. They’ve also had their stretches where they’ve dropped off. That’s part of development, part of their process of learning how to contribute.”
As a result, the Hawks lead the league in games played by rookies, with 277 entering Tuesday. Two other teams — the Devils with 261 and the Senators with 211 — exceeded 200. Not surprisingly, none of the top five teams in this category will make the playoffs.
Here are each NHL team's total games played by rookies this season. Blackhawks have the most: pic.twitter.com/PLtpoTJvnA— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) May 4, 2021
Hagel is perhaps the one Hawks rookie who hasn’t endured any underwhelming periods to balance out his impressive periods. His scoring has caught up lately with the rest of his play, too.
After recording seven points in his first 24 games, Hagel has tallied 15 points in his most recent 24 — including seven in his last eight — to move into a tie for ninth in the league in rookie scoring. (Suter, with 23 points to Hagel’s 22, ranks seventh.)
“I’m still learning from older guys and getting a feel for the league,” Hagel said. “It’s not an easy league to play in. There are tons of things I can get better at over the summer and coming into next year.”
Dach aggravates tissue
Kirby Dach was held out of the game Tuesday because of aggravated scar tissue in his surgically repaired right wrist.
“I don’t know exactly what the plan is going to be here for the rest of the games here,” Colliton said. “It’s not totally unexpected to deal with scar tissue. It came to a head today.”
It’s concerning news for the valuable young forward, who also has dealt with pain in his wrist since returning ahead of schedule from his December surgery. The Hawks have insisted that Dach’s playing down the stretch would only help, not hinder, his recovery.
Carpenter, de Haan not traveling
Forward Ryan Carpenter (concussion) and defenseman Calvin de Haan (hip injury) are not with the Hawks in Carolina, Colliton said.
They’ve missed the last five and six consecutive games, respectively, and at the earliest could return Sunday for the team’s second-to-last game. It would be surprising to see them play again this season, but Colliton isn’t officially ruling them out.
“The most important thing is for them to get healthy,” he said. “If they were to get healthy, get 100%, we would make that decision.”