This post is going to start with a personal story, but I promise you it will get to hockey…
When I was a freshman in High School I had an English teacher, and for the sake of anonymity we’ll call him Mr. Mike. Eight years later and we’re still in touch. I’ll never forget Mr. Mike patiently waiting on the first day of school for the room full of rambunctious little ninth graders to calm down. After what must have been 15 minutes of loud conversation, maybe more, the space eventually fell silent as my fellow students and I realized that the breaking point of our teacher was more than likely near. After a moment in silence still having said not a word to us students, my intense yet still somehow mild mannered instructor calmly uttered, “I’m like a grizzly bear. I’ll wait.”
As an outdoor enthusiast myself, I quickly realized that Mr. Mike was a teacher who I was going to get along with, and his class was one which I would likely enjoy very much.
While I’ve never had an encounter with a grizzly bear, nor have I actually found any confirmation or statistics on the correlations between grizzly bears and unusually impressive patience, I can’t help but hear Mr. Mike voicing that phrase in my head every time I see Kevin Hayes on the ice for the Rangers.
Nearing the conclusion of his rookie campaign now, it’s become clear to viewers that the graduate of Boston College is going to have quite a good career in the NHL. In 68 games with the Rangers this season, Hayes, the natural winger turned center has accumulated 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points, 22 of which have come since the calendar changed over from 2014 to 2015.
#Rangers Kevin Hayes has 21 assists this year. 19 of them have been primary assists.
— Seth Rothman (@RothmanHockey) March 23, 2015
*Note: The above was tweeted before his second assist of the evening.
Hayes has also found chemistry with line mate Carl Hagelin, and the duo’s combination of speed and size has given the opposition fits in recent days. Prior to Martin St. Louis falling victim to a lower body injury, Hayes was also playing on what was arguably the team’s best line for a month or so, one which consisted of Hagelin, Miller, and Hayes himself.
But perhaps the most impressive characteristic that Hayes has shown here in his first year of professional hockey has been his patience.
Time and time again, Hayes has completed eye-opening, head-turning plays in big part due to the way he waits and waits and waits for a play to fully develop and materialize, and once it does, he strikes, much the way this grizzly does when the opportunity to catch Salmon arises.
Let’s use this goal against the Islanders as exhibit “A.” Notice the slight hesitation from Hayes which is the straw that breaks the camel’s (Halak’s) back:
Then there’s this goal from last month in Colorado. Hayes skates out of his own zone and navigates through the neutral zone, holding the puck the entire time. Then when he had the opportunity to throw the puck on net from a bad angle, he continued to protect it, made a terrific move around Varlamov, and shoved the biscuit into the open net.
And how about this one from last weekend against Carolina? While he didn’t wait quite as long as Joe Micheletti made it sound, Hayes did hang onto the puck just long enough to find a wide open Jesper Fast streaking toward the net, who then had the pretty spin-o-rama finish.
Long story short, after a somewhat stagnant start to the season, Hayes has slowly put together a very impressive rookie campaign. He’s used his size and innate hockey sense to make his presence on the ice felt, but perhaps the most underappreciated part of his game has been his patience. It’s a trait that, according to Mr. Mike, grizzly bears are known for, and it’s also something many stars in the NHL have. Seldom is it found, though, in 22-year-old rookies.
Kevin Hayes has got it, and it’s going to help him in a big way down the road. Hayes has all the tools for a terrific career, and he’s off to a mighty fine start with his first act on Broadway.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.