Kevin Hayes was expected to take on a bigger role for the New York Rangers this season after an impressive rookie campaign where he posted 45 points in 79 games played.
Thus far Hayes has been unimpressive; and his struggles have left a big void in the Rangers offense. Sophomore slumps happen and that seems to be the case with the big center-man. The season has almost reached the half-way point, and if the organization can’t find a way to get the young forward going, they could be in trouble.
At this rate Hayes is on pace to post 37 points by years end, which is only an eight point drop off from his rookie season. It still hurts, because it seemed like the Rangers were looking for him to be a 50+ point man, so to have him barely scrape 40 leaves some work for his teammates to have to pickup.
The year didn’t always look so glum for Hayes; in October he had six points in 11 games and then he seemed to be finding his touch in November when he had nine points in 14 games. But an absolutely brutal December has set him back, as so far this month he’s only posted two points in 12 games.
The real struggle with Hayes hasn’t just been offense, it’s been his play all over the ice. He has been turning the puck over, hasn’t done a good job of winning battles, and his ability to open up space has been compromised by defenses around the league.
Plays that he made last season without issue have now become an adventure; like the game in Nashville where he tried to thread the needle and get the puck through two Nashville defenders, of course the puck was blocked, Hayes gets caught behind the play, and the Predators scored and important goal to restore their lead.
At the moment the forward is on pace to finish the season a minus two, with 31 takeaways; in his rookie year, Hayes finished the year a +15 with 45 takeaways.
Scratching Your Head
The maddening thing for Rangers fans seems to be that Hayes isn’t playing with much desperation, and Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault confirmed as much following the team practice; where Hayes found himself skating as an extra.
AV says it’s come to a “tipping point” with Kevin Hayes. Says young forward has not worked hard enough this season.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) December 29, 2015
Should go without saying but AV confirms Kevin Hayes will not play tomorrow night at TB. — Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) December 29, 2015
To this point the Rangers have allowed Hayes the opportunity to play and get his game together, but he really hasn’t given the team much of a choice. To scratch the young forward against the Tampa Bay Lightning is a statement, as they are the team that ousted the Rangers last season in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. Maybe this turn of events wakes Hayes up, but if it doesn’t their isn’t much else the team can do.
The criticisms of Hayes are completely on the money, he seems to be thinking too much about making pretty passes, and not enough about making the hard plays on the walls. I see the issues as a combination of three things: I think loosing Hagelin (who was such a smart player) has exposed Hayes on the other side of the puck; I think that teams now know what to expect from him and are simply anticipating his passes; I don’t think that Hayes has done enough to move his game to the next level.
The Rangers are doing the right thing by scratching him, you can keep playing him because he’s not helping, and you can’t get rid of him because of his potential.
To be fair almost no one on the Rangers has looked good in December, and the whole team has been struggling to help one another; but that’s all the more reason for Hayes to be skating like there’s no tomorrow.
I graduated from Brooklyn College with a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism. Shortly after, I began writing for the Full Tilt Hockey Network, where I still contribute, covering a broad range of topics across the NHL.
I have been contributing to The Hockey Writers since February of this year focusing on the New York Rangers. My articles tend to focus on analysis of players, and possible directions that the organization could go.