The New York Rangers recently signed Jarret Stoll to a one-year deal worth $800,000. With the veteran center under contract, and players like Oscar Lindberg blooming, one has to wonder if the Rangers are thinking of moving 23-year-old Kevin Hayes from center to the wing.
Where Is Hayes Better Long Term?
The team may consider a move to the wing, as the Rangers just locked up Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard to new contracts. Stepan has a six-year pact while Brassard has four left on his deal, so the Rangers may be looking to get Hayes in a top-six role sooner rather than later. Moving Hayes to the wing would give them more depth on the wing, and could make their big lines harder to defend. The forward has shown a terrific ability to hang onto the puck in traffic and his passing is exceptional. With the recent departure of Martin St. Louis, the ability to take the puck and make something happen will be what the Rangers look for to fill out their top-six.
That being said you have to take into account how dangerous Hayes made the Rangers’ third-line last season. His size, speed, and decision-making created problems for the opposition, and gave the Rangers three legitimate play-makers down center. Hayes finished the year with 45 points, which ranked him seventh on the Rangers.
He was awful in the face-off circle winning only 36.3% of his draws, but there is reason to believe that he will get better with more seasoning. Look at a player like Brian Boyle; in the 2009-2010 season he won only 38.7% of his face-offs, the following year he won 48.5% of draws, and in 2011-2012 he won 51.8%. I point to Boyle, because he is similar to Hayes in size, and at one point he too struggled in the dot. He is now considered a solid face-off man around the league.
Outside of face-offs, Hayes did just fine with his center responsibilities. If you look at his advanced stats he was a +37 in shots for (this stat measures the amount of shots the players team takes, subtracted by the amount of shots his team surrenders.), which was third among Rangers’ forwards. As offensive as he can be, he also takes his defensive responsibilities seriously, you often see him hustling back into the play to get a stick on the puck carrier. Last season Hayes was fifth on the Rangers in takeaways with 45.
What Do the Alternatives Give the Team?
If you take Hayes off the wing, the most probable replacements would be Stoll and Lindberg. Each of which has their own case to handle the job.
The veteran center brings a wealth of experience to the Rangers having played 12 seasons in the NHL and winning two Stanley Cups in that time. In his past few seasons Stoll has slowly transformed into a defensive specialist, as the last time he cracked the 40 point plateau was in the 2010-2011 campaign when he notched 43. Last season Stoll only recorded 17 points in 73 games.
I see Stoll bouncing around the lineup often this year, but I don’t see him holding a full-time role as the Rangers’ third-line center. One of the Rangers best assets last season was that they had such a deep attack, and locking Stoll into that slot long-term might not be the best move for either side.
What hurts Lindberg is his inexperience at the NHL level. Sure Hayes grabbed the job as a rookie, but that doesn’t happen too often. My colleague Pete Judge points to Lindberg’s ability to play a two-way game as a key factor in him competing for the third-line center role. He’s always described as being a responsible player, and he has the ability to set up his line-mates. Last season the 23-year-old had 28 goals and 28 assists in 75 games played. At this point I think he has a better shot than Stoll at grabbing the job.
Hayes is coming off a solid rookie campaign, and I think it would be silly to move him to the wing for any significant amount of time. I can understand arguments to put him with the best offensive players available, but I think the Rangers would be better off letting him grow as a center and letting him work the wing on the power-play.