Players

What’s best for Kevin Hayes?

Bill Kostroun/AP
Bill Kostroun/AP

With Derek Stepan only three compulsory games away from a return to the Rangers lineup and Derick Brassard firmly entrenched as the Rangers second line center, questions have already begun to surface about what will be best for Kevin Hayes’ development.

Hayes has had a fairly promising start to his NHL career amid difficult circumstances. Asked to start his big league career in a position that isn’t his best and in the Rangers’ weakest position, Hayes has struggled in the face-off circle winning a feeble 24.6% of his draws. On the flip side, Hayes has shown excellent skill on the puck, a willingness to play both ends of the rink and composure on the puck that isn’t seen from most rookies.

The immediate problem for Hayes isn’t too dissimilar to that of Anthony Duclair. When Stepan returns, Hayes best chance of meaningful minutes and quick development would be on the wing. With Stepan, Brassard and Dominic Moore all established, the Rangers top three centers are set and with Chris Mueller making an immediate impact (including on face-offs) Hayes may not see time up the middle barring injury. Then again, the Rangers are stacked on the wing, particularly in their top nine, which is where both Duclair and Hayes will need to play.

Hayes can play center and he has promised that he’ll improve in the faceoff circle – an admirable and open declaration – but on a team that struggles to win face-offs even with top line center Derek Stepan in the line-up, Hayes’s struggles won’t be tolerated for long. Can the Rangers accommodate a talent such as Hayes without sufficient faceoff skills and/or on a line unsuitable for his skills and long term development?

Hayes has shown he has tremendous upside and has the size, skill and maturity to make quick strides but he may be best off in Hartford where his obvious weaknesses can be better tolerated. Without clear improvement in the faceoff circle, Hayes’ best bet to stick in New York (in the short term) is to put together three strong offensive games ahead of Derek Stepan’s return and inadvertently force Anthon Duclair back to junior. There’s only room for one young prospect to be carried and/or be in and out of the line-up for now and even that isn’t an ideal situation.

Barring stunning production, Kevin Hayes is likely headed to Hartford for a spell in the AHL, a move that may not be popular among the fan base. Sometimes however, the best moves for both the long and short term, aren’t always the popular ones.

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  • He should go to Hartford and work on being a pivot. Then, if/when Mueller falters or Hayes (or Miller) improves enough — or if there’s an injury on wing — call him up.

    • Mueller isn’t the long term answer. Ideally, Stepan returns as 1C, Hayes to 3C (face offs are a glaring issue, but he’s been fine otherwise), and Moore to 4C.

      • I think Mueller becomes our 13th forward. He can platoon with several players,,,Glass. Malone and Hayes.
        I have liked Mueller so far. He may be a Ranger for a while if he can sustain his play.

          • Dave,

            Can you explain your thinking of wanting Miller in a 4th line role on an AV team?

          • At the wing, he’d have significantly less DZ responsibilities. I’d be more comfortable with him as a W. He’s also better than the Glass/Malone combo, even with his deficiencies.

          • Yeah, but we need centers. If there’s a shot that Miller or Hayes can convert to center (at least for the near term), I think it’s worth trying.

          • Do you really think Miller & Fast belong on a 4th line? I personally think both are top 9 players in today’s NHL. I’m not a fan of Glass but at least he and Malone add a big line to the roster. IMO Moore should be on that line with them to create better puck possession. Mueller can handle the Ozone starts the 3rd line gets. With Mueller on the 4th the line doesn’t seem to worry anyone. Moore wins those big Dzone Faceoffs too.

          • Fast? Yes.

            Miller? Not ideally, but he’s better than the options we have now (Glass/Malone/Mueller), especially at W, where his DZ coverages are simpler.

      • What about Hayes as 2C with MSL and Say Hagelin on his wing. Move Brassard and Zuc to the 3rd line where they had so much success last season. They’d play lesser QoC and Hayes would balance the size with Hagelin and MSL. Also I personally think Zuc would play better 5 on 5 on the left with Stempniak on RW. Unfortunately what’s best for Hayes and what’s best for the Rangers are different entities. The Rangers need a big pivot in the lineup. I think Hayes has played well enough to be allowed to learn on the fly. The entire team stinks in the circles.

        Aside from Dom Moore who I think should get some PP mins even just to win the FO. If it were just the 2nd period when the bench is next to the Ozone and he could come off after the draw.

        • Based on last years ice times, the second and third line play roughly the same under AV so as far as designating which line is which isn’t all that important.

          I agree with your idea of getting a different winger paired with Brass/Zucc. I think that’s a must and probably something we’ll see once Stepan returns.

          I also like your idea of giving Dom some PP faceoffs while Stepan is out. Especially in the second period, like you said, they might as well take advantage of the short change in that period.

        • I like this idea. Gives balance of size, speed and scoring touch on lines 1 and 2. And yes, we need to get better at the dot if we want to be a puck possession team.

          • I’m glad both of you see what I’m saying. I think a lot of what the Rangers Management does or doesn’t do as the deadline nears, will depend on Hayes’ development. If he can’t hang in the NHL for an entire season, i’d suspect Sather opts to find a top 9 winger in the trade market. Ideally Hayes holds his own and we can just look for depth on defense. A 7th or 8th defenseman. In todays post the bottom 6 pivots are set the same. I think the 4th line would have the puck more with Dom Moore on it. He’s suited for the defensive zone draws better. I see no point in giving Moore sheltered minutes in the offensive zone with his 3rd line wingers. Mueller would be better with Duke and Hagelin.

      • Oh, I totally agree. Mueller is a short term fix. I just think a little while in the AHL to practice his face-offs, etc. would benefit his confidence. I see him as our long-term 3C (unless some room opens up on wing). The kid is great.

      • This is what likely happens

        The Kreider Nash combo is so physically dominant but the Zuc/Brass combo needs a net front presence. That’s the big conundrum facing AV once everyone is healthy

  • Keep him. My lines:

    Kreider / Hayes / Nash
    Duclair / Brass / Zucc
    Hags / Step / MSL
    Glass / Moore / Stemp

    Lines 1-3 don’t need a number. Stemp can move up and down lineup on either wing if kids have off day. Glass seems entrenched in line up so had to put him there. Malone is spare and gets some time when kids need a break.

    Thoughts.

    • Love that line up paul, wish they coaching staff would try that, but I don’t believe the duke will be here much longer unfortunately. Hayes in hartford for a stink wouldn’t hurt

    • Your line up is a very good option. Let’s face it, Stemp can do a very good job on the 4th line, and will give us additional depth in the scoring department!! Also if Hayes falls off somewhat, then he can go down to the 3rd line, and still be effective. This line up would drive any team crazy with the skill set, and speed we would be putting out on the ice nightly.

  • Hayes is playing well and contributing too much to not play a regular shift. The faceoffs will come with time. Almost all rookie centers are terrible at faceoffs and improve dramatically over time. What’s important is that Hayes is doing all the other things well that a center needs to do.

    His defensive positioning is sound, he stays high in the O-zone and takes chances swooping low at the appropriate times. Also, he tends to not make mistakes at either blue line which is a usually a problem with young players. Contrast that to J.T. Miller who has struggled with all of those things in the NHL so far.

    Also, Hayes uses his size extremely well. He’s great at protecting the puck and making plays off of that.

    Let’s hope Hayes keeps this up, once Stepan comes back Moore can be slotted at 4C/primary PK forward which is his ideal position.

    • Couldn’t agree more. The faceoff issues to me aren’t enough to justify him not being ready for the NHL.

      As you mention, faceoff improvement comes with time, something that can be corrected at the NHL level (caveat: as long as he can improve from his current rate, which may be a product of a small sample size).

      This team needs to shore up its play in the defensesive zone, an issue that Hayes is a part of the solution to.

      In my mind, this team can roll 3 interchangable scoring lines with a healthy Stepan.

      D. Moore is best served at the 4th C.

  • What’s the latest on Stepan? He’s eligible to come off IR in 3 games but is he actually on pace for that?

  • I think Hayes is the type of guy that will only get better playing at the NHL level. He has a mans body and is learning to use it against similar competition. Face off failures or not, I see no reason for him not to stay right where he is. Anyway, its not like they have anybody else coming along that is playing so much better than him.

  • Hayes is getting better every game. I like his size and his puck handling. He also has good hands. Leave him right where he is between Nash and Krieder. This line will rock and he will get better and better. Stephen will not be in real game shape for at least another month anyway.

    • It’s close, but I don’t think they do.

      Likely one of the extra forwards will have to be removed from the roster. Maybe they can retroactively move Boyle to Long Term Injured Reserve for extra cap space? I’m not sure how far that can be backdated though. You certainly don’t want to have a healthy Dan Boyle ineligible to play.

  • Leave Hayes right there at Centre. Faceoffs may be a liability now, but where it will pay off is at playoff time.

  • in all fairness chris – i dont wanna see you complaining about nyr lack of size if ur sending hayes to htfd to work on faceoffs.

  • Are ya nuts? Chris Mueller making an immediate impact? One game? Jesus amigo, give me a break. I’ll hire Chris Drury as faceoff coach and teach Hayes the art. This boy can play!

  • Really would rather have Hayes stay up with the big club and learn from his mistakes he’ll figure it out in the faceoff circle just needs a little time. As for Duke I’m torn I want him to stay with us but I’m also afraid he’s going to come back down to earth and start slumping majorly and then we’re stuck with him. I think our best bet is to send Duke back to Juniors for one more season and leave Hayes with the big club and out him on the wing on the 1st or 2nd line.

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