Did the Rangers hurt Kevin Hayes’ development last year?
In his final season at Boston College, Kevin Hayes scored 27G with 38A in 40 games on the wing. He was a force with now Calgary Flames star Johnny Gaudreau and would leave BC as a top 50 scorer in their history.
From his junior to senior year he went from a 25 point player to a 65 point player. He nearly tripled his production and what did the Rangers do with it? They forced Hayes to play a position that took him nearly 5 months to get comfortable with. Yes, the Rangers last year were overloaded on the wings with an aging star in Martin St. Louis and host of talented wingers like Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider.
Further down the depth chart, guys like Carl Hagelin and Lee Stempniak were taking up valuable 3rd line time on the flank. Tanner Glass was also eating up ice and Anthony Duclair took the team by storm in September only to be moved at the deadline for Keith Yandle.
The issue for the Rangers was depth down the middle after the buyout of Brad Richards and losing Brian Boyle to Tampa in free agency. So they took this power forward with great hands and speed and stuck him at center to learn a position, not at the AHL level, but in the best league in the world.
The result? He was in and out of the lineup early on but put it together to lead the Rangers in scoring after the All-Star break. However, there was one huge issue and that was his inability to even be remotely competitive on face-offs. His 33% was awful and helped the Rangers be the 29th worst team in that category.
Now enter in Oscar Lindberg and Jarret Stoll, both solid face-off men that give the Rangers 5 centers heading into the season. Last night, Dominic Moore was used on the wing, but you know when the games count he will be in his rightful place as the 4th line pivot.
So what’s going on with Kevin Hayes this preseason? At times he has shown flashed of his skill but for the most part has gone unnoticed when dressed. Alain Vigneault has been looking for more out of him and thus far doesn’t feel he’s getting it. AV said after last night’s 4-3 exhibition win against NJ:
“On the wing, I thought that line had a couple moments,” the coach said. “[Hayes] is trying hard. It’s like a lot of our other guys they’re trying to find their rhythm, find their timing. You have to be a little bit patient and work with them”. -via NYPost
That was a far better review than what he had to say after practice on Friday. AV went as far as to say he needs to “pick up his play” and “he is expecting more”. This was after a game against the Flyers where AV was displeased by what he saw.
Still, AV may see Hayes as a center simply because he likes his size. As per the NYDN he stated, “If you ask me what I like about him at the center position and what that gives to our team, it gives us a big third-line center that can be effective offensively and defensively.”
While that worked from February to April, Hayes struggled in the playoffs. Now with the center position crowded and a need for another top 6 winger with MSL’s departure, you have to ask “did the Rangers hurt themselves by forcing him at center last year?”
For now, I think Hayes will find his game and fit in fine as a winger on the 2nd or 3rd line. This is only his second season in the league and we know very little about him? Maybe he’s a notorious slow starter or maybe the Rangers actually took him a step back by plugging a square peg into a round hole.