TSP: What do the Rangers Get In Kevin Hayes

Welcome to the 2014 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. As we go through the Summer of 2014 I will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will go team by team through the NHL bringing you a look at each Teams Top Prospects. I will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2014 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2014-15 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoffs) or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.

Today we take a break from our team-by-team previews and instead cover a player who has made big headlines in signing with the New York Rangers.  Kevin Hayes, the former Blackhawks first round draft choice who refused to sign with the team, and thus became a free agent has signed an entry-level contract with the New York Rangers.  Hayes re-joins former teammate Chris Kreider in New York.

Playing at Boston College last year, Hayes had 65 points, the second highest total in the country, behind only linemate Johnny Gaudreau.  Pursued by the majority of NHL teams after spurning the Blackhawks (who will receive a compensatory pick for not signing Hayes), it was assumed that the Calgary Flames who have Gaudreau and the other BC linemate Bill Arnold in their organization; or the Florida Panthers who have Kevin’s brother Jimmy Hayes in their organization, were the front runners for his signature.  Another strong contender was expected to be the Boston Bruins who were Hayes favorite team growing up.  However the Rangers swooped in to win the sweepstakes.  Now lets take a look at what they have won.

Kevin Hayes, Centre/Wing

Born May 8 1992 — Dorchester, MA
Height 6.04 — Weight 216 — Shoots Left
Drafted by Chicago Blackhawks – round 1 #24 overall 2010 NHL Entry Draft

Kevin Hayes is a versatile forward capable of playing all three forward positions, though mainly played right wing last season. Given the player we describe below we see him as more of a winger than a centre going forward as well. He comes from good bloodlines, as in addition to his brother being a second round pick, he also has a number of cousins, including Keith Tkachuk reaching the elite levels of hockey over the years.

At 6’4 Hayes has impressive size. That said, don’t expect a hugely physical player as banging and crashing are not really his game. That said while he’s not one to initiate contact, he doesn’t shay away from being hit to make a play and his size does help in board battles and in front of the net. It also helps him to protect the puck down low, and he has great reach and soft hands that make him a very strong stickhandler. He can extend plays and then uses his excellent vision and playmaking ability to find the open man with a tape to tape pass. His hockey IQ is high end, and he thinks the game better than his opponents at the college level. Hayes also has a hard shot, that features a quick release.

Hayes skating has improved since his draft year, yet remains his biggest weakness. He has a very wide stride and he needs work on his first step and his acceleration. Once he gets going the speed is good, but the acceleration and first step means he loses short races to loose pucks. He could also work on his agility. His strength on his skates and balance have really improved at BC, and are now assets, and good ones with a guy his size playing a down low game.

Hayes has two way skill as he is smart in his own zone as well, anticipating plays and creating turnovers by stealing pucks and intercepting passes. His big size is again useful along the boards and he makes the smart play once he gets the puck, getting the puck out of his end and the transition game going. A willing backchecker, he provides support to the defence when appropriate, and covers up his point when this is needed. Hayes is a willing and able shot blocker.

The question on Hayes is how much of his production was due to playing with the best player in college hockey and how much of it was his own skill. On the negative side of the ledger, we see Hayes struggle in his first two years of NCAA hockey, before taking off in his third year when he begins playing with Gaudreau. His fourth year explosion, coincides with Gaudreau’s, and that leaves some questions. On the other hand, he obviously has some talent. He was a first round pick of an NHL team for a reason. He also was put on the first line for a reason (his ability to extend plays, and his hockey IQ), he wasn’t just gifted that spot. Boston College is a deep program with talented players, and so he had to earn the right to play with Gaudreau. 65 points is also a huge number that while being part of the best line in the NCAA certainly helped, he also contributed to that line with his own play. So how much of that talent translates to the pro game for the 22-year-old? We will have to see in Rangers training camp. And how quickly does he adjust to the stronger, faster, bigger opponents he will see in the NHL; that is to be determined, but at just 22 years old, its not the worst thing if he spends a year in the AHL if he can’t make the jump in one step.  He will be given a shot to make the team out of training camp though, with his main competition being Lee Stempniak in a battle for the wing position on the Rangers third line.


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