Kevin Hayes could take over for Derek Stepan as the top center. Based on how his game changed during last year’s offseason and based on the level of maturity the 24-year-old’s game reflected throughout the regular season, he would be a fit replacement for Stepan.
There are signs that management was looking for Hayes to take a larger role on the faceoff circle last season. Behind Stepan’s 1,522 faceoffs in 81 games was Hayes with 968 in 76 games.
While there are other options on the Rangers roster, Mika Zibanejad likely being one of the Rangers top options, I believe that Hayes’s game could flourish as the top center on the roster.
Though Zibanejad had higher success in the faceoff circle (his faceoff percentage was 52.0% compared to Hayes’s 45.7%), throughout the regular season Hayes showed more consistency offensively and his style of play makes him more likely to shoot on net.
One threat to Hayes’s success in this role would be to put him in more of a defensive role, as we saw in the postseason. Hayes struggled, only putting up three assists in 12 games.
So long as the Rangers avoid this, giving Hayes a shot as the top center in 2017-18 is something that could help him find the full potential of his game.