The Chicago Blackhawks will have a new skater in the lineup when they visit Columbus Thursday night. Jimmy Hayes was recalled Tuesday and could see his first action for the Blackhawks since last April.
The big forward may have a surprise or two for Blackhawks fans who remember his 31-game stint with Chicago last season. In fact, Hayes will be in a top-six role when he hits the ice.
Hayes skated with Dave Bolland and Patick Kane on the second line at practice Wednesday. It was the first time the team had taken the ice since Sunday's 6-5 loss to Edmonton. The first and third lines are as been the case throughout the 2013 campaign, with Marcus Kruger centering Michael Frolik and Daniel Carcillo on the fourth line.
The 6'6", 221-pound Hayes made some noise on the physical front when he first came up last season. Don't expect a banger in the mold of Bryan Bickell, because that isn't really Hayes' game.
Hayes was used at center frequently in Rockford. As a natural wing, he struggled mightily early in the season before breaking out in a big way back in January. Hayes explained the turning point to Scott Powers of ESPNChicago.com:
I was struggling. I only had six goals right at the lockout there. I was kind of taking it on myself. I had scored goals at every level. I was talking to (IceHogs coach Ted Dent), and Teddy told me you have to shoot the puck and go to the net if you want to score. I started to do that way more with my game, and it's started to reward me a little bit.
In 26 games since January 1, Hayes lit up the AHL for 16 goals and eight assists. Before his call up, Hayes was tied with Jeremy Morin for the team lead with 22 goals.
Hayes is more aggressive in getting to the net and has displayed more giddy-up in his skating compared to last spring. He has the hands to make things happen, whether it's Kane or Bolland feeding him the puck.
I didn't mind seeing Viktor Stalberg in the top-six, but his return with Andrew Shaw and Bickell gives them the chance to continue supplying secondary scoring. Hayes may get a steady stream of minutes Thursday to see how he handles the pace of the game before some other big road games in the next week.
Using Hayes to ensure continuity of the other lines seems to be Joel Quenneville's way of thinking as well, based on what he told Powers following practice Wednesday.
I think we looked at our lines getting them all back together, and having him fit in Sharp's spot gives him a chance to continue on the way he's played (in the AHL). Based on how well he's played there, he's earned an opportunity like that to play with a couple nice players.
His first opportunity comes tonight against the Blue Jackets.