Back in 2010 the Chicago Blackhawks used the 24th overall pick to draft a talented but very young Kevin Hayes. At the time Hayes was still in High School and decided to go to college, spending the last four years playing for and often winning with Boston College. When he graduated this year the hockey world was rife with speculation about where he’d sign. Having been drafted by the Hawks you would think that he’d be happy to end up there, but they weren’t able to come to a deal and he became a UFA. Then, oddly, he decided to sign with the Rangers. Wait, what? A highly coveted prospect decided to spurn an original six team set up for perianal runs at the cup… for the Rangers? Yes, it happened. Turns out the Boston native had no desire what so ever to sign with the Hawks. I assume that has to do with the fact that he wouldn’t see NHL ice as a member of the Blackhawks, because, you know, they’re stacked and Hayes is seventh or eighth on their depth chart at best. So, instead of fighting his way through the AHL he went to school to improve his game and let his draft rights expire so he could sign elsewhere. Who cares? You care! Why? Because this kid has some decent hockey chops, or you’d think so given how excited folks seemed to get when this minor circus got kicked off with his recent graduation. Now that he has a home we have to wonder, just how good is Kevin Hayes?
At 6-foot-4, 215lbs the 22-year-old winger has the size, but didn’t do much with it in his first three seasons at BC posting just 17 goals and 67 points in 102 games. That’s bleh fo’ sho’. It wasn’t until last season that he really found his stride and had a monster year potting 27 goals and 65 points in 40 games. Finally using his big frame and good vision to create space for himself Hayes began to find success. The new threat he provided helped take pressure off of his line mates Johnny Gaudreau (C) and Bill Arnold (LW), who with Hayes made up what many considered to be the best line in college hockey in the last two decades. Gaudreau posted an insane 80-points in 40 games while Bill Arnold’s exceptional two-way play was considered the best in the game, allowing Hayes to focus more on his offensive game and the results were plain to see. It’s easy enough to say it was Gaudreau’s ultra soft hands that helped Hayes to 27 goals, but hey the kid has to put the biscuit in the basket to get credit, so he can finish. In any case, the Flames drafted both Arnold and Gaudreau, so Hayes will have to find some new line mates and we get to see if he really does have the chops.
One great year in four is pretty weak and does not a top prospect make. Hell, that’s 25%. If this were a final exam he’d totally get an F. I don’t know what his actual GPA was, but it must have been at least somewhat better than that. Or maybe he bribed his teachers? Who knows? Either way that’s weak no matter how you cut it. Sidney Crosby was totally rockin’ the league at 22! So clearly Hayes has some catching up to do. That’s a completely reasonable metric to apply to Hayes, right? Right! Anyway, you have to wonder if last season was a fluke or a breakout and frankly it’s still too early to tell. The talent was always there, why else would the Hawks have drafted him out of high school? Still, after three middling seasons to start his college career it seemed like he might not be worth the first round pick the Hawks wasted on him. The biggest problem with Hayes seems to be his speed, or lack thereof. He’s not Brad Richards slow, but he’s slow by NHL standards and that’s a problem. The Rangers are team built for speed on the wings and it’s like that Hayes won’t be able to keep up right away. You know what that means? AHL time, y’all! One of the hardest aspects of the transition from amateur play to the NHL is adjusting to the speed of the game. Amateur play is like an Amtrak train. The NHL is one of those sweet maglev bullet trains in Japan. There’s really no comparison. Until he gets his footwork up to par you can expect he’ll spend time in the AHL, which is kind of ironic considering he sort of wanted to avoid that situation in the first place. There is some room for him to fight for a roster spot on the Rangers, but not a lot with Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello and Lee Stempniak on the right side. He could switch to southpaw and earn a bottom six spot, but Tanner Glass and Matthew Lombardi, Jesper Fast and Danny Kristo stand in his way. Depending on how quickly Hayes can get to speed and some key injuries I could see him getting some NHL ice time this season, but not enough to make him worth drafting this year. Only time will tell.