Long summer's rest coming to an end for Carl Hagelin, Penguins
Camp countdown: With four days left before the Penguins open training camp Friday morning in Cranberry, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie highlights four players for whom a long summer was probably highly beneficial.
If Carl Hagelin called this the longest summer of his life, he would be exaggerating.
If he called it the longest of his NHL career, he’d be telling the truth.
Before last season, Hagelin had played six years in the NHL, and his offseason never began before May 25.
When the Washington Capitals closed out the Penguins in the sixth game of a second-round series May 7 last season, it was the earliest start of a summer for Hagelin by almost three weeks.
Hagelin isn’t complaining, of course. A long season means playoff success, which is the goal of any NHL player. Still, though, long season after long season can take a toll.
Because of the second-round exit last season, Hagelin had more time to spend with his newborn daughter. His teammates had time to bask on the beach and tour Europe. More importantly, though, they all had time to prepare for the hard road that lies ahead.
“Not just hockey specific things, but more just to get your body in shape and healing all the injuries you’ve had nagging for four, five years,” Hagelin said. “Maybe you’ll do some mobility or hip and groin stuff that maybe you didn’t have time in the other summers.”
Here’s a look at the four Penguins players who could theoretically benefit most from a longer summer.
1. Carl Hagelin
At the end of the 2017 playoffs, Hagelin was dealing with a broken fibula that wasn’t healing according to plan. He gritted his teeth and suited up for four games in the Stanley Cup Final, even scoring the final goal of the season, an empty netter that capped a 2-0 Penguins victory in Game 6.
After another short summer, he recorded two goals and four assists in his first 42 games of last season. Coincidence? Probably not.
2. Derick Brassard
When the Penguins acquired Brassard at the trade deadline last season, they were bringing in a supremely talented center, but they weren’t exactly adding fresh legs to their lineup. Thanks to long playoffs runs with the Rangers and Ottawa Senators, Brassard is tied with Sidney Crosby for the most games played in the league over the past five seasons.
Add in a lower-body injury suffered in late March, and there’s perhaps no player who needed a breather more than Brassard.
“I think it’s going to be good for our group to kind of reenergize,” Brassard said. “You come here and you can feel the excitement around the guys. After a couple seasons, when you play almost an extra season, it gets tiring a little bit mentally and physically.”
After coming out the other side of a career-threatening battle with head injuries in the early part of this decade, Crosby has become one of the most dependable players in the league. He hasn’t missed more than seven games in any of the last five seasons.
Crosby said he enjoyed using the longer summer to visit some European vacation spots he didn’t have time to see the previous summers. But make no mistake: His 31-year-old body could benefit from the time off, too.
4. Kris Letang
Because Letang is a workout warrior who keeps himself in impeccable physical condition, the working theory was that he would be able to bounce back from major neck surgery in April 2017 quicker than the average athlete.
Maybe he did, but that doesn’t mean the process was easy and it doesn’t mean Letang was at the top of his game at the start of last season. He was a minus-14 in October, compared to a plus-5 the rest of the way. A longer, healthier summer could certainly lead to a faster start.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.