Kevin Hayes has emerged as one of the New York Rangers’ best forwards three years into his NHL career. His production and role on the Rangers have made Hayes one of the premier players from the 2014-15 rookie class. We will take a look at where he stands compared to his peers from that year’s rookie group.
Boston College prospect Kevin Hayes fell into the New York Rangers’ lap in the 2014 offseason. Originally drafted in the first round by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, Hayes elected to test free agency four years after his initial drafting. His emergence under the bright lights of New York has been a delight for the Rangers’ front office, who has had bad luck drafting top-tier prospects without several first and second-round picks in recent years.
As Hayes continues to see his role grow on the Rangers, let’s take a moment to compare him to some of the other players from his rookie season. That 2014-15 forward class includes several notable names, such as Johnny Gaudreau, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Filip Forsberg.
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Since entering the National Hockey League three years ago, Kevin Hayes has suited up in 202 of the New York Rangers’ 208 games, or 97% of the possible games. Hayes ranks third among the 2014-15 rookie forward class in games played since the beginning of that season, trailing Filip Forsberg (207 GP) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (206 GP).
This year’s New York Rangers have been troubled with injuries early and often, and Hayes has been one of the few consistent presences. There were reports that Hayes lost 25lbs in the offseason, and his conditioning continues to be a strong point of his game. He must continue to stay in the lineup in order for the Rangers to have real playoff aspirations.
Forsberg and Johnny Gaudreau have gotten most of the praise as the elite goal scoring prospects from the 2014-15 class, and Kuznetsov has the luxury of playing alongside Alex Ovechkin. However, Kevin Hayes has done his part to contribute in a variety of ways on the score sheet.
Hayes’ rookie season was impressive, producing 45 points in 79 games, good for fifth among the 2014-15 rookie forwards. That season was highlighted by Hayes’ ability to produce points on his own. He led the Rangers in primary points with 42 (17 goals and 25 primary assists).
What is most intriguing about Hayes’ ability to produce since his rookie season and forward is the limited amount of ice time he receives. Hayes saw an average of 13:02TOI in his rookie season, 35th among rookie forwards. This season Hayes is seeing his most ice time (17:02ATOI) of his young career due to various injuries to the Rangers’ forward group.
Similarly, Hayes saw limited ice time in his second full season, averaging 13:40 in 2015-16. This season he is seeing his most ice time (17:02ATOI) of his young career due to various injuries to the Rangers’ forward group.
Role and Contract
Perhaps the most inspirational aspect of Hayes claim to fame in New York has been his ability to take on increased responsibilities. With the Rangers’ injuries piling up this season, Hayes has been asked to take on more ice-time and larger defensive assignments.
Proof of his expanding role is his presence on this season’s penalty killing unit. Before this season Hayes saw very little shorthanded opportunities, but he has given the Rangers a lethal penalty killing unit alongside J.T. Miller with 4 shorthanded points.
Another way that Hayes has made an impact for the Rangers is by his willingness to sign a team-friendly contract. Players from the 2014-15 class such as Forsberg ($6M annually) and Gaudreau ($6.75M annually) have been awarded large contracts. Meanwhile, this offseason Hayes signed an economical 2-year contract worth $5.2 million.
Kevin Hayes came to the Rangers unexpectedly in 2014 and has had a growing presence ever since. His abilities on the ice continue to grow, and his contributions are finding ways to be seen on and off the scoresheets. The New York Rangers will be a better team for the foreseeable future with him a part of their core.