The New York Rangers have a penchant for making big signings, and the trend continued with the signing of highly coveted free agent Kevin Hayes.
The signing was made official by the Rangers’ official Twitter account on Wednesday:
Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times summed it up best with this tweet:
Kevin Hayes is an NHL-ready right wing. Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane, among others, are in his way. This one seems pretty cut-and-dried.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) August 15, 2014
There has been a ton of fanfare over this prized free agent, but what can the Rangers expect from Hayes this season?
As Lazerus pointed out, Hayes was not going to make the Blackhawks' roster, but he will have a shot to make the Rangers out of training camp. There's a chance he could start with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack, but he will have a fair shot of making the opening-night roster.
Hayes comes with a pedigree of success—both in production and hardware—and the Rangers are hoping the 22-year-old, 6’5”, 225-pound right winger can step in and make a difference.
Hayes won an NCAA championship with Boston College in 2012, was a Hobey Baker Award finalist this past season and was named the MVP of the 2014 Beanpot tournament.
His offensive game is encouraging as well, but we will get to that later.
Ryan Lambert—an NCAA hockey enthusiast and writer for Puck Daddy— had this breakdown of Hayes’ game:
He knows he can go through anyone based on his high skill level and physical size.
He's also pretty safe in his own zone, and in fact was deployed as a defenseman for a time earlier in his college career, when BC simply ran out of healthy bodies to put on the blue line. He didn't expose himself too badly there. One thing he's not, however, is suited to play an “energy” role. He's big and he can throw the body around if need be, but that's not his game and asking him to play it is a misuse of talent. In short, he's a big, heavy, high-scoring, 22-year-old left-shot right wing (and occasional defenseman) who can take a draw if needed, who isn't afraid to play physical, who has the upside to play in the top-six.
Evan Sporer—a contributor to Blueshirt Banter and someone who had the privilege of watching Hayes play often—offered an assessment of the Rangers’ newest addition.
"His size will allow him to continue to bang bodies at the pro level, while his hands and vision round out his offensive dynamic. He has the ability to play that finesse style, which is way more effective when complementing his straight-ahead style,” he wrote.
In other words, it could be said at this point that Hayes is a bigger, slower and less offensive variant of Chris Kreider.
Both players have size, offensive upside and a penchant for physical hockey. Kreider is faster and more offensive, but he doesn't have the size Hayes does.
Hayes won’t have to do everything Kreider does, but at the very least, the offensive potential is clearly there.
During his time in the NCAA, Elite Prospects indicates Hayes tallied 44 goals and 132 points in 142 career games. While some have said that he was byproduct of superstar linemate Johnny Gaudreau, Lambert debunked that notion in his breakdown of Hayes’ game.
“With Gaudreau, his points per game went up by just 0.19, a little less than 13 percent. Point being: He was a star no matter who he played with,” he suggested.
In other words, Hayes is a player who got better playing with Gaudreau, but he was already a stud in his own right. In all honesty, though, good players generally get better when they play with someone of equal or superior talent, so the Gaudreau argument doesn't really make much sense in this situation.
If Hayes sticks in the NHL this season, Bleacher Report's Rob Vollman projects him to tally around 35 points:
Long story short, I'd probably peg Hayes for ~35 points. Remember all charts are last HE year and first NHL year only (min 20 gp).— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) August 20, 2014
That would be a fair number for a rookie third-liner, which is a role Hayes could occupy this season.
Although this signing may seem insignificant to some, landing Hayes on an entry-level contract at age 22 is a major win for the Rangers. The Rangers have been aggressive in trading for NHL talent such as Ryane Clowe, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, and the result has been the loss of early draft picks.
This has led to general manager Glen Sather targeting talented NCAA free agents, and that was the case with Hayes.
Hayes is just the latest NCAA player to sign with the Rangers, and he joins a list that includes standouts Ryan Haggerty, Mat Bodie, Chris McCarthy and Conor Allen.
No matter how you look at this situation, the Rangers are big winners. At the low cost of a standard entry-level contract, the Blueshirts added a top prospect who may or may not help the team. His body of work suggests he could pan out for the Rangers, and it will be interesting to see what the lines look like on opening night.
After the signing of Hayes, here's a projected look at the Rangers' forward group for the upcoming season:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Rick Nash||Derek Stepan||Chris Kreider|
|Mats Zuccarello||Derick Brassard||Martin St. Louis|
|Carl Hagelin||J.T. Miller||Kevin Hayes|
|Matthew Lombardi||Dominic Moore||Lee Stempniak|
If I were Alain Vigneault, I'd do this.
This lineup is full of youth, size and depth, and it is all thanks to the shrewdness of Sather.
Hayes may end up starting the season in the AHL, but it is safe to say that he will get his NHL shot this season—something he wouldn't have been granted with the Chicago Blackhawks.