After a disappointing sophomore year, Kevin Hayes bounced back in the 2016-2017 season. Hayes proved his great rookie season was not a fluke, and that he can be a part of the New York Rangers long-term plans.
The potential for Kevin Hayes was always evident. Standing at 6’5, Hayes already had a clear advantage over his opponents. His ability to play the center ice position, along with the wing, makes him even more valuable.
However, Hayes hit a lull in his second season with the New York Rangers. Hayes scored just 14 goals and 22 assists, totaling nine points less than in his rookie season.
That year ended with Hayes being benched in the playoffs for Tanner Glass, as the New York Rangers were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.
Hayes signed a bridge deal with the New York Rangers in July of 2016, making $5.2 million over two years. It was up to Hayes to prove he deserved a bigger contract.
It seems Hayes took the benching from Alain Vigneault as motivation. Hayes showed up to training camp down 20 pounds from his weight last season, dropping from 236 to 215 pounds, aiming to improve his quickness.
From the start, it looked like the hard work payed off. Hayes found his game, and looked rejuvenated on a new line featuring himself, JT Miller, and Michael Grabner.
The play-making ability of Hayes, combined with the speed of Grabner and the hard working Miller, made the New York Rangers third line their most dangerous, and made Hayes more dangerous.
Hayes scored 17 goals along with 32 assists, and compiled a career high 49 points.
Hayes also proved he could be more versatile. This was the first year Hayes routinely played on the penalty kill, averaging about 1:28 according to Sports Illustrated.
Hayes also averaged about three minutes more of ice time than the year prior, averaging 16:34 compared to 13:40 last season.
Still Some Setbacks
An improved season was still not without setbacks for Hayes. Out of all the Rangers forwards, Hayes was dead last in puck possession, which makes his good numbers a head scratcher.
When Hayes does have the puck, he still tends to hold onto it too long. Many criticisms of Hayes from his rookie season still remain. He remains inconsistent even though he has developed into a better two-way player, and doesn’t use his size to his advantage.
With the production Hayes was outputting, this criticism wouldn’t be an issue. However, Hayes’ poor performance in the playoffs left us with more questions than answers.
In the playoffs, Hayes didn’t find the back of the net once, and had just three total points in 12 games. While Hayes came in to this season seemingly motivated, that motivation didn’t carry over to the postseason.
Hayes wrote a piece for the Players Tribune before the playoffs vowing to Rangers fans that he would never let them down again. Unfortunately, his playoff performance was one to forget.
Up until the playoffs, it was a good season for Hayes, and that’s what should be taken into account going forward.
If Hayes can find that consistency missing from his game, watch out. Hopefully this year was a progression towards that.