ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals prospect Håkon Hanelt stands by the glass, staring out at the rink before him. There’s a wonder in his eyes as, behind glasses and a wide smile, he takes in an NHL dream unfolding in front of him.
At just 19 years old, Hanelt’s still just a teenager. Off the ice, he’s a fun-loving guy who loves going out to restaurants, exploring cities and watching TV. He’s a music fan and admitted binge-watcher who’s gotten through the entire Lucifer series three times. But at the same time, he’s far from the typical teen; he acts well beyond his years, and after not getting to truly hit the ice for last year’s camp and overcoming adversity, he is ready to show what he can do.
“Feels awesome [to be here],” Hanelt said. “I finally can prove what I’m capable of.”
Hanelt was born in Berlin, Germany, and has always had a passion for the sport. He grew up watching NHL hockey, which was constantly on TV at home. His father also played, and at the age of two, Hanelt’s mom gifted him his first-ever hockey stick. The rest is history.
“I really loved it. I touched the ice for the first time when I was about three or something,” Hanelt recalled. “I really enjoyed it.”
Hanelt worked his way up the ranks, playing in every single position besides goalie, which he insists with a smile that he wouldn’t be good at. He prides himself on versatility after having played center, wing and defense over the course of his career. His two-way ability, vision and hockey IQ shined through, and at the age of 17, he made the pro jump.
In 2020-21, Hanelt cracked the DEL’s Eisbären Berlin (Polar Bears) roster and laced ’em up from 22 games, dishing one goal. He competed against grown men and put himself on the radar in his draft year overseas.
Haakon Hanelt, a 2021 #NHLDraft prospect, scored a beautiful goal for Germany today.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) November 6, 2020
Hanelt was NHL Central Scouting‘s No. 56 ranked international skater. He went to QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympique in the CHL Import Draft, and in July, his NHL dream came to life as the Capitals took him with their fifth-round pick, a potential late steal depending on how his transition to North America fared.
“[It was] an awesome feeling,” Hanelt said. “I felt very honored to be selected by such a good organization. I have a lot of friends who love the Capitals from the beginning, a lot of Russian players… I really love it to be here,” Hanelt said.
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After getting to experience D.C. for the first time through off-ice training and some time skating toward the end of training camp, Hanelt reported to the QMJHL for his rookie campaign with Gatineau. However, he made it just seven games through the season, dishing a goal and four assists, before a shoulder injury led to surgery toward the end of November. He missed months of action, which is tough on any rookie trying to prove his worth after being drafted.
Instead of getting down on himself, he got to work, focusing on as many details as he good while resting up his shoulder. Ultimately, he returned to the ice in April with a renewed drive to succeed.
“During that time I did a lot of skating work on it, did a lot of endurance stuff,” Hanelt said. “I was able to be back for the playoffs which was awesome. And I’m really happy that I’m done with the surgery now and that I’m capable of being here and being here at the development camp.”
Hanelt said his shoulder is 100 percent better. He ended up finishing the regular season with two goals and eight assists in 16 games and then recording two goals in six playoff outings. He then made his way to the District for development camp, and that’s where he truly stole the spotlight.
Showing off more speed, quick hands and impressive drive, Hanelt put in a strong effort during each session. He was vocal, active and aggressive on the forecheck. The youngster did just about everything, hustling on the backcheck, making strong passes, getting into — and winning — puck battles and working as a screen in front.
1-on-1 drills. pic.twitter.com/xQ1BOsleZS
— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) July 12, 2022
All the while, he continues to improve his shot and awareness at both ends of the ice, and he believes there is still a lot more he can incorporate into his game to take that next step forward in his career.
“When you look at the guys in the NHL, how they skate and how good they are on their edges, I think that’s the biggest part,” Hanelt noted. “And I think that will be a big part of me like working on during the summer.”
Hanelt is already a big personality and well-liked guy in the Capitals locker room, affectionately known as “Hank.” He has already formed a tight brotherhood with Hendrix Lapierre and Vincent Iorio, and with those two, helped lead by example at camp. And now, he’s carrying that over to Team Germany’s camp as he gets another shot at the World Juniors, which were originally being held in December amid his injury but cancelled due to COVID-19.
When it comes to his role in the Capitals organization, he is willing to play whatever role he’s asked, which is music to any coach’s ears.
“A two-way center would be more like the type of guy I would play,” Hanelt said. “I’m more comfortable in the center role. But if you need me on the left wing or right wing, I will play that too. I played two years as a defenseman too. So that’d be a choice; I would play that too.”
But beyond just playing a role, Hanelt wants to build his own path. Leon Draisaitl, Philipp Grubauer and Tim Stützle are just some of the Germans who have created their own legacies and inspired their home nation. Hanelt wants to join that list, but instead of modeling his game after today’s stars, he is focusing on crafting his own style and bringing that to the big leagues.
“I just try to play my own game, make my own statement. That’s my biggest goal,” Hanelt said. “Of course, it’s an honor if someone compares you to a really good player in the NHL or something. But honestly, I’m just trying to play my own game.
“It was always my dream to be here and my goal is to reach the NHL. I hope that I will do it someday.”