Many Philadelphia Flyers fans know the name ‘Kevin Hayes’ from his days with the team’s Metropolitan Division rival, the New York Rangers. The forward had played almost his entire career with the organization, becoming a key figure in their successes while he donned the Blueshirts sweater. However, some might not know all of the hockey background of the 27-year-old forward who was traded to the Flyers and signed a seven-year contract extension back in June.
Hayes grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, along with his brother and NHL winger, Jimmy, who spent his career with a few teams, from the Florida Panthers to their hometown Boston Bruins. Kevin was drafted two years after his brother, in the 2010 NHL Draft, by the Chicago Blackhawks, another team his brother suited up for. Despite being selected, he never played a game for the Blackhawks organization. Instead, he spent four years in college, and used that as a way to become a free agent and choose wherever he wanted to go.
Making the Professional Leap
Becoming one of the top college free agents in the summer of 2014, Hayes signed with the Rangers after being pursued by a few other NHL teams. Over the years within the organization he became a staple of their offense that included other names such as Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Jesper Fast, among others. He played a significant role in helping the Rangers make consistent playoff appearances, from his rookie season in 2014-15 until 2016-17. During that playoff span with the Blueshirts, he posted the following numbers:
- 2015: 2 goals and 5 assists in 19 games
- 2016: 0 points in 3 games
- 2017: 3 assists in 12 games
Eventually, the Rangers organization decided that they needed to head in a different direction, wanting to retool for a season and bounce back with a new core of talent. General manager Jeff Gorton wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on moves, and sent then-Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning along with J.T. Miller. A couple other players that saw their way out were Zuccarello, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Jimmy Vesey. Hayes’ contract was up at the end of the 2018-19 season and the team decided it was time to move on from him as part of their new direction. They traded him to the Winnipeg Jets at the 2019 deadline.
He finished his Rangers career with 361 games played in the regular season, scoring 87 goals and accumulating 129 assists. He added additional depth for a team hoping they could provide their fans with a solid rebound following a Western Conference Final loss to the then-expansion Vegas Golden Knights. After a short-lived run, though, which included a first-round exit that saw Hayes put up two goals and an assist, the Jets decided to move on, and traded him to the Flyers, where he eventually agreed to terms on a long-term contract extension with the club.
Taking New Leadership Role
Hayes now steps in to become a veteran leader to help get the Flyers back into the postseason. He can be someone who can help explain and spread the system and message of head coach Alain Vigneault, having been with him for most of his coaching tenure with the Rangers. Vigneault thought highly enough of Hayes to name him an alternate captain before he even stepped foot onto the ice to make his regular-season debut with the team. He can also make an impact with the younger players.
There are rookie forwards, such as 2018 first-round draft pick Joel Farabee, who will need someone to look up to who can help them adjust to the NHL game and the hardships that they will come across down the stretch of a long, 82-game season. The Flyers have a young blue line for the most part as well, with the average age being just 26. While he might not be able to train those players on the defensive position itself, he can still be a locker room presence through his words, as well as how he presents himself.
He can show some of the younger defensemen such as Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim how to carry themselves and help them grow both on and off the ice, having them become better people and maybe eventually NHL veterans themselves. Frustrations are bound to set in as well for some of the players down the line, and Hayes is someone who can help keep those guys focused on the main objective, and can keep them on course for improvement throughout the 2019-20 season.
Only time will tell whether the game and mindset Hayes brings to the organization will help pay off for the team and the rest of the players. He has the backing of his head coach in Vigneault, and as long as he gets the same backing in leadership from his peers in the locker room, the transition for the Flyers into becoming that playoff threat may not be that far out of reach.