The Boston Bruins are short on depth among natural right wingers. By this coming weekend, they could have a potential locally born-and-bred option in Boston College graduate Kevin Hayes.
Hayes, a Blackhawks draft pick, can avoid unrestricted free agency if he signs an entry-level deal by this Friday, Aug. 15. But on July 29, Scott Powers of ESPN Chicago quoted Hayes’ agent, Robert Murray, as asserting that his client will test the market.
Barring a drastic change, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli could at least try to add to his quantity of unripe depth aspirants. Beyond presumptive first- and second-line right wings Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith, respectively, the Bruins have Matt Fraser, Jordan Caron and a host of rookies.
Would Hayes really add any quality to that consortium? Not necessarily for the short run, which Boston’s makeup is clamoring for, but which the Bruins may not have the finances to attain.
Boston will need to place Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve just to re-sign Smith, Fraser and Torey Krug, let alone add new pieces. Cost would be a vital factor in the search for any free-agent additives.
For that reason, it is little surprise that the Bruins are surfacing in the percolating Hayes chatter. All things considered, any little bit of affordable right-side familiarity can help them.
In a Sunday blog post, senior editor Brian Costello of The Hockey News ranked Boston third among logical Hayes suitors. That refreshes a three-week-old debate that began on July 19 with CSNNE.com beat reporter Joe Haggerty.
In his write-up, Haggerty stressed the following plus points:
The most attractive part about Hayes to the Bruins, beyond being a right-winger, and size/skill: the cost. As an NCAA free agent, Hayes would still need to agree to an entry level deal, and his maximum cap hit would be a team-friendly $900,000, along with any bonus money agreed to in the contract.
Among the drawbacks, Haggerty noted, “He is a left shot, so it’s not the perfect fit for Chiarelli and Claude Julien in their preference for strict left shot/left wing-right shot/right wing division.”
That supposed preference has not hindered the integration of Eriksson, another left-shooting striker who patrols the right flank. In addition, Caron has always been listed as a right wing despite carrying a left-curving twig.
Even so, there are other cautions to consider. First and foremost, Hayes has yet to play a professional game and is coming off four years of a less intensive regimen.
Minus the elite and the exceptionally advanced, leaning on a newly graduated NCAA product for 82-plus games is a precarious proposition. There are few leaps and transitions more demanding than switching from a 40-plus-game itinerary from October to April to the rigors of The Show in only a year.
Look no further than one of Hayes’ fellow former BC Eagles, Chris Kreider.
On the heels of a national championship run as a junior in 2012, Kreider signed on to join the New York Rangers. Despite his breakout over a three-round playoff run that spring, he had yet to face a start-to-finish ride among professional bigwigs.
The work stoppage over the next autumn was surely a disguised blessing that tamed his pace. Nonetheless, he mustered only 23 NHL twirls in the lockout-shortened, 48-game 2012-13 campaign. This past season, he put in 66 appearances and mustered 37 points but momentarily returned to the AHL for six games.
Justin Schultz, who like Hayes was a college free agent ahead of his professional breakthrough, was another lockout beneficiary. The former Wisconsin defenseman signed with Edmonton in June of 2012, then joined the Oklahoma City Barons when the Oilers’ season was on hold.
Since debuting on Jan. 20, 2013, Schultz has been a mainstay in Edmonton’s active lineup. But odds are he would have developed a sore need for AHL time had he not received three months of it by default beforehand.
In fairness, Bruins holdovers from 2008-09 know that some NCAA UFAs can dodge this unwritten rule.
Recall that former Coyotes prospect Blake Wheeler went to Boston via the University of Minnesota after failing to agree with Phoenix. He proceeded to pitch in 21 goals and 45 points as a rookie and has never played an AHL game in six seasons with Boston or Atlanta/Winnipeg.
But the distribution of exceptions is too sparse to support any assertion that Hayes can hit the ice sprinting in the NHL. Therefore, if the Bruins are to pursue him, they must arm themselves with an alternative in case he emerges as Providence material this September.
Among natural right wings, they have secured Caron’s rights for 2014-15 on a one-year, $600,000 contact. Fraser, as already noted, is still a restricted free agent.
The only other readily practical option would be to experiment with a spare center on the right side. In an interview with WEEI.com reporter DJ Bean, fourth-line pivot Gregory Campbell hinted at a possible shuffle to the wing.
Of course, Campbell is another left shot. Ditto for veteran Chris Kelly and rising prodigies Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner. What Hayes lacks in professional experience, they all lack in fresh evidence of performing on their off-wing.
In addition, while the 30-year-old, nine-season veteran Campbell could win out through seniority, he would surely go no higher than the fourth line. The fresher Hayes’ best-case scenario would have him challenging Fraser, and maybe Caron, for third-line duty.
Caron is becoming an annual head-scratcher with his renewals. The former first-round pick from 2009 split his first three professional seasons between the NHL and AHL, then mustered 35 appearances as last season's spare forward.
Fraser has logged 27 NHL games, including 14 with Boston and not counting four twirls in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. But his THN scouting report waves some cautionary flags on his top-nine aptitude when it mentions that he “needs more work on his skating. May be limited offensively at the highest level.”
The good news for the Bruins is that they have a more promising long-term project in the works with David Pastrnak. While their latest first-rounder is unlikely to see NHL action in 2014-15, he is emerging as a can't-miss right-shooting striker.
Unless Chiarelli is willing to make a few ice-shattering, salary-opening moves, he is likely looking to hold an audition to keep Pastrnak’s slot warm. The young Czech needs more bulk and more overseas competition against men but likely no more than one and certainly no more than two years’ worth.
In the interim, the Bruins must choose between altering their overall makeup and letting unripe, unproven and overdone (Caron) candidates vie to round out their right wing.
Under the latter approach, Hayes will be a worthy target if and when he hits free agency this weekend. If the talent and experience of other depth candidates conspire to eclipse him, it could not hurt anyone to let him reload the Providence strike force.
But if his hefty frame and 65-point senior season translate a little better a little sooner, he may afford Boston a little more flexibility.
First things first, if the footrace to take Hayes off Chicago’s hands goes on schedule, the Bruins must win it. To do that, they must plan to engage in it.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.
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