There are two things to consider before reading the rest of this story. The first one is the most important:
1) Expectations for what Kevin Hayes is going to be should be very, very high. There's a reason why every team in the NHL wanted his services. But expectations for Hayes this year can be lower without him being a total bust or a failure. It's not one or the other.
2) This story is assuming Hayes makes the team out of camp, which I do think will happen. But if he doesn't, or if he struggles, remember the first point above. That's still true.
There have been reports the Rangers are interested in using Hayes at center, which I think makes some sense. Hayes is responsible in his own end, and having him line up at center would allow J.T. Miller to line up on the wing (if he makes the team as well) which would cover up some of his defensive flaws.
This, of course, throws the rest of the line combinations in limbo, so allow me to explain myself.
Rick Nash - Derek Stepan - Chris Kreider
Mats Zuccarello - Derick Brassard - Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - J.T. Miller
Lee Stempniak - Dom Moore - Matthew Lombardi
I've said this before and I will say it again: I don't see Alain Vigneault breaking up the first line, so I'm keeping them together.
In regards to the second line, I think there's a lot of merit to keeping a scorer like St. Louis with two players who were at or near the top of the list in set-up passes last year. Plus, I think St. Louis' ability to feed the puck will help both Zuccarello and Brassard shoot the puck a little more, too.
There's a ton of risk in the third line as it is -- especially if both Miller and Hayes are on it -- so I think Hagelin would help settle things out defensively, and help transition the puck up with his speed. He can cause turnovers with his forecheck too, which is preferable. It doesn't matter if Hayes and Miller switch positions, either, it's all the same.
Here's the real question, though: Can Stempniak and Lombardi handle the brutal fourth-line minutes last year's fourth line saw under Vigneault? Lombardi has been out of the game for a bit, but he was touted as a good penalty killer when the Rangers signed him; how much that helps remains to be seen. Moore -- I've always believed -- was the better overall player between him and Brian Boyle, and that includes his defensive game. Stempniak has good possession numbers, but he's never truly been asked to play a more dominant defensive role. Would he wilt there?
Depending on how much Vigneault has to baby that third line -- and in the beginning I think he would have to -- the fourth line might be required to play those tougher defensive minutes. This year's bottom three would boast more offense, which might back other teams off a little, but who knows how much that will factor in.
The Rangers are currently in the middle of solving a good problem to have. The answer won't come until training camp, but I do think it's a fair assumption to paint Hayes on the third line be it at center or wing. I think Hayes currently has the inside track, with Miller close behind. Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg would have to really impress to knock one of those two off; Anthony Duclair would have to really, really, really impress and Danny Kristo's dream of making it on Broadway seems all but done at this point.
So what are you thoughts on this, guys? Can you see both Miller and Hayes making the team out of camp?