"Well, it's nice not to finish second this summer for once" - Me right after it was confirmed the Rangers landed the highly-touted, extremely-coveted free agent Kevin Hayes. The joke was stupid and was too soon. I'm sorry. Oh God I'm sorry.
But the dramatic finish to the Kevin Hayes sweepstakes reminded me so much of the Rangers marching to the Stanley Cup Final, if only because of how jealous everyone else was when their team wasn't the one to land him -- even if they had no shot in the first place.
So, of course, the birds came out chirping, and chirp they did. "I can't remember the last player to become a free agent out of college be as good as the hype," was the most common phrase I heard yesterday. That's all well and good, and there is some merit to a statement like that. For every Martin St. Louis, there's about fifty of Matt Gilroy. So yeah, other fans can pump their fists that the Rangers landed an NCAA free agent who had a 90% chance of being Gilroy rather than an actual star.
Except Hayes wasn't an NCAA free agent in that sense. Hayes was drafted in the first round (24th overall) in 2010 by the Chicago Blackhawks. They didn't sign him, then they couldn't sign him and then he became a free agent. That's miles different than a guy like Gilroy -- who was undrafted and became an NCAA free agent. They're two very different situations. It's also worth noting Hayes is just 22 years old, rather than true NCAA free agents who are usually a little older.
Hayes -- who hails from Boston College -- had his best statistical year last season when he put up 27 goals and 38 assists for 65 points in 40 games. "He only did so well because he was playing on a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold!" they cried.
In fact, another reason Hayes wasn't a Hobey finalist was because of the impression among those who didn't see BC very often was that his scoring this season was Gaudreau-driven. And while playing with the best player in NCAA hockey over the last two decades or so doesn't hurt, those who saw Hayes a lot last year - for me, it was 15 times live - know that wasn't the case. Even before they were put together on Dec. 6, Hayes put up a "mere" 21 points in 14 games by lugging inferior linemates to success. Thus, with Gaudreau, his points per game went up by just 0.19, a little less than 13 percent. Point being: He was a star no matter who he played with.
People will point towards Hayes not going anywhere near 65 points until his senior year -- that point total was actually second in the country behind Gaudreau's 80 points -- but more people (including Ryan Lambert above) attributed that to Hayes finally learning he doesn't have to play a finesse game and how to use his size. When that clicked, he clicked on an even greater level. Plus, his junior year he had 25 points in 27 games, so it wasn't like he was putting up five points a year and then making a massive jump.
In the end, there's literally no way for a New York Rangers fan to look at this move and think it's a bad thing. In fact, the only person in the organization who thinks this is a bad move is Danny Kristo, who just watched his slim chances of making this team out of camp evaporate faster than a raindrop in the Sahara Desert.
The Rangers are entering their final season without a first round pick (their third in a row). In 2013 the Rangers landed Anthony Duclair and Pavel Buchnevich in the third round -- both of whom are considered first round talents. With the acquisition of Hayes -- who is a first round draft pick -- the Rangers have made up for that gulf.
Give Glen Sather a wealth of credit. He really does find ways to make New York an attractive landing spot. And the Rangers just leveraged that to bring in a highly touted prospect who is very young and has high end talent.
There's nothing wrong with that.