UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Defenseman Robert Hagg is a good-natured person whose disposition turns nasty on the ice.
But despite leading the Flyers in hits (258, eighth in the NHL) and blocked shots (158, 13th in the NHL) last season, he is the team’s forgotten man.
When the Flyers acquired veteran defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun in the offseason, it pushed the 6-2, 216-pound Hagg down on the depth chart.
At training camp, Hagg, 24, is trying to show he should stay in the regular rotation.
“I think everyone has to prove themselves in camp,” Hagg said before the Flyers’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday. “It’s a new coaching staff, new management. I’m just trying to prove what kind of player I can be. That’s all I’m focusing on right now. Every single game, every single practice, you have to prove to everyone that you’re ready.
“It’s a part of the job, I guess.”
Goalie Carter Hart was sharp in his first preseason performance, stopping all 14 shots he faced before leaving with a 1-0 lead midway through the second period. He was replaced by J-F Berube.
Chris Bigras’ point drive gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead with 11:37 left in regulation. With 1:34 to go, the Isles pulled their goalie and tied it at 2-all as Jordan Eberle converted a pass from Mathew Barzal.
The Isles won it when Mason Jobst banged home a rebound with 52.3 seconds remaining in overtime.
Hagg did his part, contributing four hits and four blocked shots while playing in all situations. He took seven shots and put three on goal.
“Hagger did a great job tonight blocking shots and getting into lanes,” Hart said. “He’s one of our most solid defenders.”
For Hagg, earning a spot will be an uphill climb. Niskanen looks set to play with Ivan Provorov on the top pairing. Braun, who excelled in Monday’s 3-1 exhibition loss to the Islanders, has displayed a good stick and smarts in camp. After Monday’s game, coach Alain Vigneault praised Braun and said he could see him sometimes playing against opponents’ top lines.
Braun has been paired with Shayne Gostisbehere, whose true value is as the power play’s quarterback.
The other pairing might have Travis Sanheim and Phil Myers. Sanheim was arguably the Flyers’ best defenseman in the second half last season, and Myers has been a standout in camp.
That means Hagg and Samuel Morin could be extras when the season opens Oct. 4 against Chicago in Prague.
Against the Isles on Tuesday, Hagg was paired with Sanheim, and the duo was solid.
“You practice and practice and want to play the games,” said Hagg, who made his preseason debut.
Last season, Hagg chipped in with five goals and 20 points and finished with a minus-3 rating, the second-best mark on the team’s defense. As a team, the Flyers were 29th in the NHL in goals allowed as all the defensemen were too careless with the puck.
“I’ve played two years now and know what I have to do to play at this level,” Hagg said. “Play my game. That’s all I can do out there, and we’ll see what happens.”
Vigneault likes what he has seen from Hagg in camp.
“I like his demeanor, and his size, strength and reach on the ice,” he said before the game. "I’ve heard a lot of a good things about Hagg. He’s battling right now with a lot of guys. I like good internal competition. I want guys to step up.”
They have five more exhibition games to show their stuff.