Passed over in bantam draft, Hagel now an NHL prospect
He might have felt a little unwanted when his bantam hockey days concluded, but Brandon Hagel found a home with the Red Deer Rebels.
And in a few years, who knows? He might be a resident of Buffalo, N.Y.
Considered too slight and therefore ignored in the 2013 WHL bantam draft after sniping 22 goals and collecting 41 points in 33 games with the major bantam Fort Saskatchewan Rangers, the Morinville product went on to star at the minor midget AAA and midget AAA levels.
In the 2014-15 season, as a 16-year-old, he finished third in Alberta Midget League scoring with 51 points (23g,28a) and was a second-team all-star. He also played two games with the AJHL Whitecourt Wolverines that season, contributing one goal and one assist.
Hagel started the 2015-16 season with the Wolverines intent on pursuing a U.S. college scholarship, but three games into the AJHL campaign — after scoring once and adding two helpers — he joined the Rebels despite being contacted by a couple of American schools.
He insisted at the time that he was confident he had made the right decision, and it’s hard to argue with that sentiment now. The talented and hard-working forward turned in an impressive rookie WHL season with 13 goals and 47 points in 72 regular-season games and another goal and nine assists in 17 playoff contests.
More importantly, at least for personal reasons, he was selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the sixth round of June’s NHL entry draft.
Hagel attended the Sabres’ summer rookie camp, picked up a pair of assists in three games during the team’s recent prospects tournament and attended main camp for three days before being sent back to the Rebels.
“It was quite the experience. Those guys (pros) are pretty strong out there,” Hagel said Wednesday, two days after rejoining the Rebels. “But it’s always good to be back.”
Hagel has grown considerably since his minor hockey days and at six-foot-one and 165 pounds, clearly hasn’t been overpowered at the major junior level. However, after competing at a higher level in Buffalo, he realizes he’ll have to bulk up somewhat if he wants to one day play for pay.
“It was obviously a faster-paced game (in Buffalo),” he said. “It was a little more simple and easier to make plays because of the support with you, but, yeah, strength was the No. 1 thing.”
Still, the 18-year-old felt good about his performance.
“There were some nerves going into it, but in the end I thought I put everything out on the line and I thought I had a pretty good camp,” he said. “Now I have to show that here.”
The message to Hagel when he departed Buffalo was one he was familiar with, but nevertheless took to heart.
“I was told that the main thing is just to gain strength and get a little bigger,” he said. “But that’s not news to me. I’ve been told that my whole career. Now I have to focus on that this year and do the right things.”
Two-thirds of his Rebels forward unit is now reunited with last week’s return of Grayson Pawlenchuk from the Dallas Stars camp. Once Michael Spacek is reassigned by the Winnipeg Jets, the Rebels will have their full complement of veterans along with their complete first line.
“Spacek is having an unbelievable camp there (Winnipeg) which is good for him, but we’re excited to get him back,” said Hagel. “Him, Pawly and myself have connected really well.”
Hagel will make his 2016-17 regular-season debut Friday when the Rebels open a three-game road trip in Moose Jaw. He’s a good bet to easily surpass his numbers from last season this winter and become a more complete major junior player.
Already, he’s an above-average WHL player as well as being a bona fide NHL prospect. Impressive for an athlete who was overlooked in the bantam draft.
“Going into the (NHL) draft I didn’t know what was going to come forward, it was kind of a toss-up,” said Hagel. “But I’m going to make the most of it and show them (opposing WHL teams) that maybe they did make the wrong decisions.”
The Rebels reduced their roster Wednesday by sending 16-year-old forward Austin Schellenberg to the Grande Prairie midget AAA Storm and on Thursday dealt the rights to 17-year-old defenceman Zach Wytinck to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Both transactions are detailed on this site.