With the trade of Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes is now the number two center behind Mika Zibanejad on the roster of the New York Rangers.With the team losing Oscar Lindberg to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft and the New York Rangers and Arizona Coyotes trade completed in late June, the organization and fans were very satisfied with how things looked for the New York hockey team.
Then an unforeseen situation occurred once the dust settled. Kevin Hayes would now be the center of the second line. Would he be up to this challenge?
At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds with great skating ability and an accurate hard shot, Hayes has the potential to play at different positions for the Rangers. He is able to a grind it out in the corners, is a strong power- play forward, and can play with any of the top-six forwards on the team. Hayes was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks with the No. 24 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft but attended Boston College. Once his college career at Boston College ended, he never signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, became a free agent and then signed with the Rangers in August of 2014.
Hayes made the Ranger squad right out of training camp and made his NHL debut on Oct. 12, 2014, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hayes finished the season with 17 goals and 45 points, led NHL rookies in primary assists (25) and was fifth in rookie scoring. In the Playoffs, Hayes scored an overtime winning goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins to become the first rookie in Rangers history to score a playoff overtime goal on the road.
As Hayes enter his fourth season with the Rangers, his production has been consistent. Most would think that’s a good thing, except there is one category that stands out.
His face-off percentage is low. In Hayes’s first season in 2014-15, he played in 79 games registering 17 goals 28 assists for 45 points. His face off percentage was 36%. In the 2015-16 season, he played in 79 games scoring 14 goals, 22 assists for 36 points, His face off percentage was 36% again. Last season, Hayes with 76 games played, scored 17 goals, 32 assists for 49 points with a face off percentage of 46%. Yes, he is a consistent scorer over the last 3 seasons, but his career face off percentage is at 41%.
Hayes has had some other issues over the past three seasons. He tends to get lost out on the ice at times. He has had stretches of play where you won’t hear his name mentioned, loses his defensive coverage and just seems to be a step behind the play, for no reason at all. Head coach Alain Vigneault has sat him on the bench during games to send the message that he expects more from him.
At 25-years-old, Hayes is a young kid playing on an original 6 team. With that in mind, Hayes needs to step up his game as other Rangers have done recently.
The Ranger have made several moves this off season and all of them will have an effect on Hayes this season. Losing Oscar Lindberg and Derek Stepan has created a huge hole at the center position. Hayes will be not only expected to move up in the lineup to the number two center position, but he will need to be more assertive in scoring goals and he will be taking more important faceoffs on both sides of the ice.
When puck possession and defense is so important in today’s game, can a player with a career 41% face off rating step into the number two spot and be able to help the team win? The Rangers will be relying on him to do so much more than he has in the past three seasons. He is capable of getting the job done, but can the former Boston Eagle now New York Ranger center be able to improve and stand out like never before.
Training camp begins in about seven weeks. Plenty of questions need to be answered and all involved hopes that Kevin Hayes will have the answers.