Blackhawks notebook: Can Sam Lafferty stay on Brandon Hagel’s trajectory?
Lafferty’s play this season — making positive impacts in all three zones but without a ton of points to show for it — is reminiscent of Hagel’s play last season. So could Lafferty take off next season like Hagel did this season?
LAS VEGAS — Forward Sam Lafferty recently has looked a lot like the 2021 version of Brandon Hagel.
Lafferty this season and Hagel last season came relatively out of nowhere to become impact players for the Blackhawks. Fueled by a tenacious work ethic and using a combination of speed and puck-winning ability, they made their presences felt all over the ice nightly.
But neither finished chances or amassed points at rates that reflected their quality of play.
Through 30 games with the Hawks, Lafferty has scored on only 5.7% of his shot attempts (four goals on 70 attempts). Hagel’s surge last April lifted his final percentage to 6.3%, but he was at 3.8% (three goals on 80 attempts) in his first 30 games of the season. He grew exasperated several times about questions related to not finishing his chances.
And although Hagel took more shots last season than Lafferty has this season (12.0 vs. 9.8 per 60 minutes), Lafferty has generated more scoring chances than Hagel did last season (8.1 vs. 7.4 per 60 minutes).
Hagel, of course, figured out his finishing issues this season, scoring on 12.0% of his shot attempts — and on 22.3% of his shots on goal — en route to 37 points in 55 games before he was traded to the Lightning on March 18.
That leads to an interesting — and potentially exciting — question: Might Lafferty experience a similar takeoff next season?
His play this week lends credence to the possibility. He singlehandedly produced seven scoring chances against the Ducks and Kings and finally converted one in sleek fashion against the Kings (although he was much quieter Saturday against the Golden Knights).
The difference in their ages — Hagel was then 22, Lafferty is 27 — is one solid counterargument. And the Hawks would have to re-sign Lafferty; he is a pending unrestricted free agent.
But interim coach Derek King said Thursday that management ‘‘might want to lock this guy in because he’s what you need here.’’ And Saturday, he seemed to support the Lafferty/Hagel comparison, too.
‘‘I don’t know if he’s going to be able to throw in 20, 30 goals, but I’m not telling him not to,’’ King said. ‘‘He has been playing real good, solid hockey, working hard without the puck. And he’s managing the puck a lot better; he’s not overhandling it as much. He’s going to the net and obviously showing some good hands on that goal [against the Kings]. When he does shoot the puck, he’s got a pretty good release.
‘‘For him, he just has to play both ends of the ice [and] not worry about the points or the goals; they’ll come. And they are coming because he’s working right.’’
For the second consecutive game, rookie defenseman Alex Vlasic was scratched in favor of Erik Gustafsson.
The steadfast trust King and defensive coach Marc Crawford have in Gustafsson is a bit odd, but that decision is part of a greater plan to make the Hawks’ prospects earn their ice time, even in a rebuild.
‘‘There’s still that accountability,’’ King said. ‘‘I’m not just going to throw ice time at guys because this isn’t developing.’’
King said he thinks Vlasic, at this early stage of his career, can learn from sitting out, too.
‘‘[He should be] watching our ‘D’ — watching Seth Jones and other ‘D’ on the other team — [and] how they play, how their gap is, how they move the puck,’’ King said. ‘‘Just getting a feel for the league.’’