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Kevin Hayes destined for success in New York

Bobby Bevilacqua

kevin hayes 2-19

Kevin Hayes had quite the spectacular rookie season in New York, and he could play an even bigger part in the Rangers offense next year. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

In the past, Glen Sather has gotten his fair share of criticism for signings and trades, some of it warranted. But the Rangers management doesn’t get nearly enough credit for their ability to identify young talent late in drafts or on the free agent market.

Ryan Callahan was a third round pick that turned in the Rangers captain. Carl Hagelin was a sixth round pick, and he turned into a great depth player, and a strong two-way forward.  Anthony Duclair was a third Round pick. When dumping Scott Gomez’s contract, Sather was able to steal prospect Ryan McDonagh from the Montreal Canadiens, and that’s worked out quite well. And of course, Henrik Lundqvist was a seventh round pick, and he developed into one of the best goalies in the NHL.

Sather struck gold again this past offseason when he signed Kevin Hayes to a two year entry level contract. Hayes was the 24th pick overall in the 2010 draft, selected by the Chicago Blackhawks. But he decided to leave and pursue a better chance at cracking an NHL roster, eventually choosing to sign with the Rangers. 

Hayes did manage to make the Rangers opening night roster, beginning out on the fourth line. But with an injury to Derek Stepan, Vigneault decided to play the rookie at center. Despite playing the wing all throughout his college career, Hayes stepped up and turned into the every day third line center.

Although his season started out slow, with Hayes admittedly focusing on not making mistakes and being a defense-first player. But once he decided to open his game up, and start playing with the puck in the opponents end more often, he flourished.

Hayes quickly turned into the team’s best center in the second half of the season, leading the team in points over the last few months. He would finish the season with 17 goals and 18 assists, adding another seven points (2-5-7) in 19 playoff games.

Hayes really had one hell of a rookie season. Once he got his game completely together, it was a joy to watch.

Hayes is so clever with the puck, making little moves to find an open skater, fend off his defender, and keep the puck in the opponents zone. He has good hands, great passing and vision, and a willingness to get to the net, whether it’s by using his size and strength, or dekeing past defenders towards the opposing goalie.

What still amazes me is how quickly he adjusted to the NHL game. Hayes was asked to switch to center and play top 9 minutes in his first ever season, and he couldn’t have handled it any better. Moving him to center may have been really beneficial, because he’s able to utilize his creativity and passing skills more effectively.

While most rookies tend to slow down as the season progresses, Hayes was completely opposite. He wasn’t scoring a ton in the first few months, focusing on playing without the puck and being responsible in his own zone. AV prompted him to start being more aggressive and offensive, and Hayes’ production skyrocketed. He scored some really great goals too, showcasing his incredible talent, whether it was skating through the entire Colorado Avalanche team, or these goals against the Capitals.

Hayes showing off his great hands.

Great awareness and hands again by Hayes.

Hayes cuts through the entire Avalanche defense and slides it past Varlamov.

Hayes 28 assists were good enough for fifth on the team, and fifth amongst all NHL rookies. If I remember correctly, all but one of those assists were primary, meaning that he was usually the one making the pass that set up a goal.

After a great rookie campaign, Hayes will play an even bigger role during this upcoming season, and he’ll be a more important cog in the Rangers offense. With Martin St. Louis retired and Carl Hagelin traded, Hayes would really be helping the team if he upped his production a bit, something that he’s fully capable of doing.

Hayes also has a good chance to break into the Rangers top six. Martin St. Louis occupied the right wing slot on the second line alongside Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, but that is now vacant. Hayes is capable of playing 16-20 minutes a night, and he could flourish alongside the explosive Kreider and Stepan.

If Oscar Lindberg makes the roster and becomes the third line center, there’s a very good chance that Hayes becomes a top six player. JT Miller could also take that spot if the team decides to keep Hayes at center. And if for some reason, Derek Stepan doesn’t sign and isn’t a Ranger next season (unlikely), Hayes may have to be the second line center.

Hayes is primed for a breakout 2015-16 season, especially now that he knows that he can play effectively on both sides of the puck. There will be no more wariness to take chances and play more offense, so we will have a full season of Kevin Hayes making some sweet passes and scoring some great goals.

Don’t be surprised if he winds up finishing in the high 50s in points, and maybe even breaking 60 points. He’s got a ton of talent, and a coaching staff with their full support. Sather found a diamond in the rough with Hayes, and the Rangers polished him into a gem.

 

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Posted on July 20, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I was just paging through some advanced stats and some of Hayes’ stats were exceptional. Hayes was best of our 4 centers in certain categories…and Stepan was last. I’m not much of an advanced stats guy, and I also realize that the strength of competition faced by Stepan is much greater than what Hayes had to face. Also, in some advanced stats, Stepan was elite. But, Hayes didn’t have guys like Krieder & MSL on his wing during the regular season, yet still had one heck of an impressive Rookie campaign, while being forced to utilize guys like Hags on his wing (not known for great hands or natural offensive ability).

    If Hayes continues to progress, Stepan might become expendable. In a Salary Cap league, you generally can’t afford to keep three exceptional Centers on the team. I’m starting to think that the Rangers will sign Stepan to a short arbitration deal and keep their eye on Hayes. If the Rangers sign Stepan long term right now at high cost with a No-Movement Clause, you can kiss Hayes goodbye in the long run. I don’t think the Rangers want to go there without seeing more of Hayes.

    What do you think? I just convinced myself of it, haha. Steps will get a short arbitration deal for the time being. The big decision will be made after the 2015-16 season ends.

    Like

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