One of the more polarizing players on the Rangers is Kevin Hayes. Hayes is viewed as an inconsistent center who “is not good defensively” and “lazy” by some. Others see Hayes as a talented middle-six center who plays a balanced game. The reality is the latter, not the former.

After an impressive rookie campaign, Hayes had what was perceived as a down year in 2015-2016. He followed that up with a strong third year in New York, recording career highs in assists (32) and points (49) while tying his career high in goals (17). The team rewarded his season and improvement with the 2C role following the Derek Stepan trade.

Season 14-15 15-16 16-17 17-18
P/60 2.33 1.88 1.6 1.7
P1/60 2.27 1.36 1.29 1.22
xGF% 51.36 50.22 44.5 52.79
CF% 51.12 48.88 43.14 48.65
OZ% 60.41 60.92 41.41 47.52
TOI QOC% 28.56 28.4 29.04 29.59

Hayes has seen his deployment change radically over the past few years. It was 2016-2017 where Hayes, despite his offensive counting stats, struggled the most. That is when Hayes stopped getting sheltered starts and did almost a complete 180 in deployment, from mostly OZ starts against weak competition to DZ starts against top competition. His CF%/xGF% numbers were easily the worst of his career. But it was a learning experience.

This season is the biggest step in Hayes’ career. Hayes was thrust into a 2C role, hopefully with major lessons learned from his time as the defensive zone specialist last season. He has improved significantly in his play without the puck. He’s not perfect, but his offensive instincts and his now efficient defensive play show he can continue to improve.

It’s understandable that people think he is lazy. He’s not exactly the most loquacious quote, and sounds like he’s been to Washington state or Oregon or Colorado a few too many times. His tall frame makes it look like he’s lazy and skating slowly, when it’s just longer strides. Faster feet doesn’t mean better skater.

Hayes has some great offensive instincts, and seems to have rounded out his game into a solid two-way player. He’s someone the Rangers can rely on as a 2C, or can be one of the best 3C’s in the game depending on the roster makeup. Kevin Hayes is actually pretty good.