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Deciding what to do with Kevin Hayes: winger or center? Top six or bottom six?

Bobby Bevilacqua

kevin hayes goal celebration 11-23

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Before the Rangers tackle the offseason and try and address their needs, the team has to decide one thing first – how are they planning on using Kevin Hayes in the future?

Hayes had a bit of a sophomore slump this season, scoring three goals and nine points less than he did in his fantastic rookie season. He wasn’t as effective this season, didn’t play with the same confidence or impact and was wrongly scapegoated by Alain Vigneault at times this season.

First off, the notion that the Rangers should part with Kevin Hayes is absolutely ridiculous. You don’t give up on a talented rookie like him simple because of one season where he struggled. So many players have gone through this in the past, struggling early on in their career after a great start in their rookie season (Jonathan Huberdeau, Matt Duchene). It’s not uncommon, and it’s not a reason to bail on a player with a lot of upside.

Hayes has shown in his career that he can be a playmaker. Drafted as a winger out of Boston College, he made the transition to center in his first NHL season, and played very well, recording 45 points and sitting near the top of the league in primary assists. In fact, 39 of his 50 career assists have been primary assists, and 20 of his 21 assists at even strength in his rookie season were first assists as well.

But he’s struggled on faceoffs throughout his career (36.2%) and isn’t a standout defensive forward, two traits that are essentially necessary to becoming a consistent, well-rounded center in the NHL. So before the Rangers decide on signing players or trading for anyone, they need to figure out where Hayes fits in their future plans.

For a young forward, it’s very important to establish consistency, mainly in their linemates, their position and their usage. Hayes didn’t have that this season, because he moved from center to wing, from the ice to the press box, and he lost guys like JT Miller and Carl Hagelin as linemates from his rookie season. It makes sense why he struggled.

With the center depth that this team has, it might be more worthwhile to develop Hayes as a winger from this point out. I think he makes for a great playmaking center, but he will never be a top six player in that role because Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard sit ahead of him on the depth chart. The team could use his size, creativity and skill in the top six, and he could really complement shoot-first platers such as Rick Nash and Derick Brassard.

Also, that would free up some room for the Rangers to sign a guy like Andrew Shaw to play a true bottom six role while also chipping in with some scoring (15-20-35), or give that third line center role to someone like Oscar Lindberg.

Hayes is needed to provide a spark and add some more skill to the top six, and his weaknesses in the faceoff circle as well as his average defensive play means that he could be better suited for a wing position.

Hayes should be a part of the Rangers’ plans, and it would be in both parties’ best interest in the long run to shift him to wing, permanently.

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Posted on May 3, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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