Crawford's Corner: Kevin Hayes Latest New Name in Ranger FoldAug 21, 2014
(Photo courtesy of uscho.com)
A former first-round pick (24th overall in 2010) by the Chicago Blackhawks, Hayes did not sign with Chicago within the requisite period of time after being drafted, and thus was declared a free agent August 15.
Hayes is a real big guy, at 6-5 and 225 pounds, and he had a terrific year this past year as a senior, scoring 27 goals and adding 38 assists for 65 points in 40 games. That was good for second overall in NCAA Division I in points, and only Hayes' linemate, Johnny Gaudreau, had more, with an incredible 80 points (36-44-80) in the same 40 games.
It's not entirely clear whether it was a matter of money that prevented Hayes from coming to terms with Chicago, or of NHL opportunity. According to capgeek.com, the 22-year-old Dorchester, MA native certainly did very well for himself financially, with a signing bonus of $180,000 and performance bonuses of nearly $6 million over the two-year life of the contract. I haven't seen anything that indicates the Blackhawks weren't willing to make that type of financial commitment, but there certainly seem to have been several teams interested in Hayes' services, once he did become a free agent. As far as opportunity goes, the Chicago lineup is certainly a tough one to crack, and nobody knows that better than Hayes' older brother Jimmy, who was up and down between Chicago and the AHL during his two-plus years in the organization before being traded to Florida last November.
The Stanley Cup-finalist Ranger roster isn't exactly chopped liver either, though, although Hayes may have looked at the wingers the Blueshirts lost this summer in Benoit Pouliot, Derek Dorsett and, presumably, Dan Carcillo, and figured that there might be a slot or two available for a big wingman. Hayes played right wing in college but is a left shot, and Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News speculated that he might fit well into the spot vacated by Pouliot, which is on the left side on a line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. That would certainly be a premier opportunity, but on the other hand, Brian Costello of The Hockey News wrote that scouts have told him that Hayes is likely to need some AHL seasoning before he is ready to play at the speed required in the NHL.
The Rangers' current depth chart shows 11 forwards who spent the majority of last season in the NHL, so there should be at least a couple or three spots up for grabs. J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast will certainly be in the mix for those, and surely the arrival of Hayes will ratchet up the pressure on those guys, as well as on Danny Kristo, who has re-signed with the Rangers for one year and will be a Group 6 unrestricted free agent next summer, unless he plays in 80 NHL games this season.
With the Rangers' salary-cap situation, they certainly need to get some mileage out of those young players with cap-friendly contracts, and it will be very interesting to see if the Millers, Fasts, Kristos, etc., who have been in the organization for a year or more, can hold off Hayes, after he scored nearly as many points last season as he did his first three college years combined, and will be looking to ride that momentum to even greater heights as he hits Ranger training camp in September.