Early in the first round of the 2015 Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins Kevin Hayes didn't look very confident. He looked like he was spending too much time thinking when he had the puck and it often resulted in Hayes making some bad decisions. Hayes was scoreless in the playoffs until he finally broke through and scored in overtime to win Game 4 against the Penguins.
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Prior to that enormous game winning goal, Hayes was seeing less ice time and fewer shifts against the Penguins, but since getting on the board back on April 22nd, the young center has been given more opportunities by the coaching staff to make an impact. Hayes' 4 points thus far in the postseason might seem like a modest number considering the fact that he has skated in all 13 of the Rangers games, but Hayes' 4 points seem to carry a lot more weight than one might think. Of course, this might have something to do with the fact that the Rangers are averaging 2 goals a game thus far in the playoffs (down from 3.02 in the regular season), but there's no denying that Hayes has made some huge plays when the Rangers were in desperate need of them.
The Blueshirts are 3-1 in this year's playoffs when Kevin Hayes registers a point. The Boston born rookie already has a game winning goal and a game winning assist to his name in his first exposure to the NHL's second season. Speaking of that game winning assist...
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See how Ryan Callahan just can't handle Hayes' wingspan? When Hayes throws out his arm to protect the puck as he goes behind the net he creates just enough space for him to stop, turn to the face the net, and fire the puck into a dangerous area.
This is hardly Kevin Hayes' prettiest primary assist, but it is a fantastic display of the rookie's skill set. Although he is only 23 years old, there are few players who are as gifted at creating scoring chances for his teammates as Kevin Hayes is. During the regular season Kevin Hayes' 21 primary assists total (he had 28 overall) was tied for the league lead with Ryan Getzlaf and Tyler Seguin. Yes, you read that correctly. High hockey IQ, a long reach, and the talent to get the puck into areas where his teammates can score make Kevin Hayes the kind of young player that every team wishes they had.
In the second period of Game 7 against the Capitals at the Garden, Hayes found the back of the net on the power play off of a gorgeous JT Miller pass to break a 5 game pointless streak and keep the Rangers alive. Hayes' beautiful tip-in set the stage for Derek Stepan to score the series winning overtime goal 11:24 into sudden death. With that goal Hayes became the first Rangers rookie to score a goal in a Game 7 since Muzz Patrick in 1939. Yes, Muzz Patrick.
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It should come as no surprise that Hayes has played well enough to be moved up to plug in as the other winger on the Rick Nash line. The trust from the coaching staff that might not have been there in late April when the Rangers were battling the Penguins looks like it has returned in spades.
The winger that got moved down from the Derick Brassard line was Hall of Fame bound Martin St. Louis. In practice today Hayes skated with Nash and Brassard, which means we should expect to see him on that line tomorrow night at the Garden for Game 2.
It's sometimes easy to forget that Kevin Hayes is a rookie and that he is just 23 years old, but when you think of how many timely (dare I say "clutch") plays he has made in these playoffs you can't help but be impressed with the kid.
How many more unforgettable moments will Kevin Hayes have in this postseason before the Cup is finally won or lost? Hopefully we don't have to see too many more considering how intense these games have been, but its comforting to know that Hayes has found his game and has already shown the ability to come up with big plays when the Rangers most need them. When all the chips are on the table and the Rangers have the puck I know that I want Kevin Hayes on the ice. Something tells me that the list of 23 year olds or rookies that are trusted by the coaching staff, the fans, and their teammates in that situation is pretty short.
Thanks for reading, Let's Go Rangers!