Kevin Hayes has become the complete player

Hayes celebrates SHG with Miller (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Hayes celebrates SHG with Miller (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Last night, Kevin Hayes put the cherry on top of my thought process with a shorthanded goal. Since the season began, I was impressed with the big 24 year old winger turned center. His 11 points in the Rangers first 12 contests speaks for itself, but there is so much more to his game.

It’s the Little Things

We all know how Hayes struggled last year. He was benched, scratched and publicly called out by Alain Vigneault. Apparently, it all must have worked because he’s become one of AV’s most reliable options.

Here’s something that stands out, this year his average ice time is 16:12. That is 3 minutes more than the average of his first 2 seasons. Where are the extra minutes coming from? Well this season, Hayes has been killing a load of penalties. In his first 2 seasons he played a little over 35 minutes on the PK. This year alone it’s over 10 already.

Another area of improvement is face-offs. Kevin Hayes has won about 49% of his draws which is lightyears better than his average of 36% over the last 2 years. That improvement has led to another major shift in usage from his coach. Hayes has literally flipped his zone starts. Over his first 2 year, AV heavily started him in the offensive zone 65% of the time. This season, AV has deployed Hayes to start in the defensive zone 57% of the time.

Coming of Age

Newsday’s Barbara Barker wrote about Hayes on November 4th. In that piece AV said, “Some guys figure it out, I can name you a list of five pages of guys that didn’t figure it out. We give them all the same information. Some guys process it in certain ways and get it done. And some guys don’t.”

This season it is clear that Hayes has gotten it. His own teammates have noticed as well. “I am going to say that Hayes is taking his game to another level this year,” Henrik Lundqvist stated. Jimmy Vesey, his best friend explained, “I know how hard he worked this summer. I think he was a little motivated by not having the year he wanted to have last year. He kind of went into the summer with a little bit of motivation and a chip on his shoulder to get back to where he wants to be.”

Kevin Hayes told Barker that “it’s all about confidence.’’ He continued, “It’s nice to be relied on. It’s a lot different from last year. But that was my mentality over the summer and coming to camp to make it different. It’s worked so far.”

Can He Keep it Up?

Let me cut to the chase, yes. Although his shooting percentage is off the charts at 27.8%, he is still considered to be playing on the third line and will not see the opposition’s top checking and defensive units on most nights.

His poise, patience and passing ability, mixed in with the play of his linemates, J.T. Miller and Michael Grabner all add up to continued success. As I stated earlier, his line starts in the defensive zone often, yet they are still doing a good job with possession at 45%. So, even having to face better offensive lines, they are still holding their own with the puck.

Hayes, is certainly benefitting by being put in a position to succeed. He is also reaping the rewards of playing on one of the deepest teams in the NHL that can roll four impressive lines with ease. Still, give credit to where it’s due, Hayes has stepped up and seized the opportunity.

Is Kevin Hayes really this good? Only time will tell, but even if you doubt it for now, he deserves the high praise. He’s earned it.

 

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore