Hagelin optimistic about his future after left eye injury

Carl Hagelin

Carl Hagelin is remaining optimistic about a return to the ice after a scary injury in early March nearly cost him his left eye.

The Capitals forward took an errant stick blade to the eye and immediately to the ice, hunched over in pain. Sunday at the team’s breakdown day, he spoke to the media for the first time about the injury and the extent of his rehab. 

“I'm doing everything I can to be back next year,” Hagelin said. “Still, I had two procedures so far and the second one was almost a month ago. A month on Friday, so it's still in that time zone of healing and kind of not sure where it's going to end up, but I'm staying positive and I'm optimistic that I'm going to come back next year. It'll be a grind, of course. I'll do everything I can this summer to be ready for camp."

Hagelin said his two surgeries were completed by two different doctors — one did surgery on the front of his eye, the other on the back of his eye. 

The choroid in the back of his eye was ruptured, as the injury was so bad that doctors considered removing his eye altogether. 

“It's the most pain I've ever been through, because the stick hit me right in the eyeball,” Hagelin said. “It wasn't any bones around it that really took any of the impact. It was scary. Those first two weeks were some of the toughest in my life, especially early on when you can't see anything with the eye. It's just total darkness.”


The status for Hagelin is now improved from the initial prognosis, but the road back to the ice will still be a long and difficult one if he can complete it. The eye will never be 100% again, and there are depth perception issues that he’s working through in order to get on the ice in a full-time capacity. 

He’s begun skating in recent weeks, away from the team and wearing a full visor while on the ice. 

"It feels better every day when I do it, for sure,” Hagelin said. “It's still some depth perception stuff and obviously looking down and looking up. It's sometimes hard to kind of get that focus in right away, so that's still a work in progress. It'll be a lot of eye training this summer and I'm up for the challenge."

Hagelin, who is under contract for one more season with a $2.75 million cap hit, is hopeful to start his fourth full season in Washington after a wild last few seasons for the Swedish winger. 

In 2018-19, he played for three different teams before ending up in Washington. In 2019-20, the season was paused in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in 2020-21, the season was only 56 games. Then during this season, he suffered his grisly eye injury. 

"Obviously it's really tough,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “I was just happy to see him on the ice skating a little bit. What he's going through is probably so tough for him mentally, and I feel for him. But he's such a positive guy and he's going to get through this and he's going to get stronger."

Hagelin was part of the team’s shutdown fourth line, with center Nic Dowd and right wing Garnet Hathaway as the steady line tor throw over the boards with the Capitals faced with a defensive zone draw, or a tough matchup.

“Honestly, that sucked,” Dowd said. “I still remember it happening right here. It was a tough thing to watch when it did happen. As a hockey player, you just don’t see that type of injury very much. When it did happen, it wasn’t something that I think any of us assumed it’d be like this. To his credit, he’s kept a really positive attitude. It was really nice seeing him around the rink after the couple weeks that we missed him.”

The road to playing hockey again for Hagelin is still a long one, as he’ll continue his eye therapy and rehab to attempt to return to the NHL. Now, though, the situation appears a bit more optimistic than it did two months ago.


“But now you're over the hump, and I've always said to myself I've been a positive person, an optimistic person,” Hagelin said. “And I need to stay that way and keep pushing for next season."