Kevin Hayes. The twenty-three year old from Boston, Massachusetts certainly opened the eyes of the coaching staff during his rookie season. He was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 in the first round, twenty-fourth overall. General Manager of the Rangers Glen Sather then signed him as a free agent on August 20, 2014.
While he only missed three regular season games due to being a healthy scratch, Hayes did struggle to adjust to NHL life at the beginning of the season. He was trading spaces with former Ranger rookie, Anthony Duclair (who is now with the Arizona Coyotes), in order to see who would make the final cut. Ultimately, the coaching staff decided to keep Hayes in the lineup while Duclair was sent back to his junior’s team.
Kevin Hayes is going to be a vital key to the Rangers’ lineup now and in the future. He has a great hockey IQ and his vision on the ice is unbelievable. He is able to make plays that no ordinary player can see. In his rookie season, he played in seventy-nine regular season games and tallied seventeen goals and forty-five points (which was great to rank fifth among rookies in assists and points). Hayes was also sixth among rookies in goals and was third in plus/minus with a + 15.
Hayes was used mostly as a center this season which is not his natural position, and even though he did struggle in the dot (36.3%), there is room for improvement and the coaching staff has seen signs of promise.
Through the first half of the season, Hayes had trouble becoming situated with the NHL lifestyle and play, as it is much different than college. However, as time went on, he started to make adjustments to his game and show that he can compete at the highest level. He only scored five goals in the first half of the year, but once the second half of the season hit, Hayes looked like a whole new player.
Head coach Alain Vigneault started to put his faith in the Hayes when he started playing the
rookie on the penalty kill. Hayes developed into an extraordinary two-way player whose discipline and responsibility in his own end has galvanized the coaching staff.
The maturity that Hayes has showed for such a young age is something that cannot be taught to a player. In the last half of the season, Hayes played center on the third line with Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis (with Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller filling in as well) and even played wing in a top-six role. Every night it seemed that Hayes made a play or scored a goal that just made peoples’ jaws drop.
In the playoffs, Hayes was up and down. In his first playoff campaign in his professional career, he played in all nineteen games and had two goals and seven points. Of course he had great moments, such as his first playoff goal coming in overtime to beat the Penguins in Game 4 of the first round. His other goal was another big time moment, when he tied the game in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals off a great feed by J.T. Miller.
Though he had flashes of brilliance in the postseason, Hayes found out that the playoffs is a whole different atmosphere. He gained valuable experience in those nineteen games that will help him for the future and to help him progress as a player on the world’s biggest stage.
Glen Sather brought in Kevin Hayes for a reason and was such a great signing for the aging GM. Hayes is crucial to the future of this team and if he can improve his face-off numbers, he can eventually one day become a number one center for Broadway. Time will tell where the Rangers decide to place Hayes (wing or center), but whatever position he plays, he will flourish and continue to put up numbers.