Kevin Hayes’ Impact On Rangers

Steve Valiquette looks at why Kevin Hayes has been so dominant in February and March for the Rangers.

With the New York Rangers gearing up for the playoffs with the acquisition of Keith Yandle before the trade deadline and the return of Henrik Lundqvist from injury, one of the transactions that could push New York over the top occurred in August of 2014.

Drafted by the Blackhawks in 2010, Kevin Hayes spurned them for Boston College. After four years, Chicago couldn’t get his name on a contract and the Rangers were able to sign the prized first-round talent as a unrestricted free agent on August 20, 2014.

Hayes began the season as a depth forward and in a limited role only produced 17 points in his first 44 games. As he has adjusted to the NHL speed and surroundings, his game has taken a leap as he produced 22 points in 29 games throughout February and March. We can easily look at his personal shooting percentage of 17% and wonder if his recent success is sustainable. After reviewing film, his size and reach offer up a tantalizing glimpse of a future where he could possibly be a dominant contributor for the Rangers.

Guys like Hayes are the reason why lots of general managers covet and draft less talented players because they have size. The strength, patience and intelligence in a 6’5” package makes him difficult to stop for opposition defenders. The way he is able to create high-quality green opportunities since Feb 1st, indicates why he is shooting 17% and his line as a whole is almost shooting at 11%.

As I mapped out his production it became clear that although 17% is not necessarily his true talent level as he will  likely produce above average results. Hayes does all the right things on the ice that lead to higher level opportunites. He is very strong at entering the zone, he has the ability to sense the proper speed to manipulate the gaps and adjusts to open up passing lanes. Kevin has the touch to make succinct tape to tape passes and provide his teammates open space. If defenders don’t mind their gap control and provide too much cushion, Hayes has been making them pay. He has been dominating the royal road with possession as well as passing across for high-end one-time opportunities, which create chaos for goaltenders.

When I separated his individual contribution to his lines offense, it became clear that he was doing the heavy lifting. On the left is all the shot opportunities that Hayes personally contributes too. I isolated all his individual shots as well as the high percentage opportunities he created through his passing. On the right is what his line produces overall.

The result is a player who consistently produces high end opportunities for himself as well as his linemates, Carl Hagelin and J.T. Miller. Hayes doesn’t produce shot attempts at the rate of a guy like Hagelin, but Hagelin is a high volume red shooter and throughout the 2014-15 season, 40% of Kevin’s shots have been of the green variety.

If we look at the green area in front of the goal, we can see Hayes’ impact. Hagelin and Miller generally enter the zone and fire from the wing in low percentage success areas and provide the goaltender the ability to set depth and angle. Like the work I recently did in regards to Patrick Sharp’s struggles it becomes clear that a player like Hagelin’s asset base is dependant on others to help him thrive as well.

The Rangers are sitting in a strong position approaching the playoffs because they can attempt to move Hayes up the lineup on the wing with Nash and Brassard or they can continue to play him lower in the lineup and allow Alain Vigneault to exploit potential matchup issues for the opposition with Hayes. Depth in the playoffs is essential and with Hayes continually improving the Rangers rookie may be thrust into the spotlight come May.