It's no secret that Kevin Hayes hit a bit of a rough patch in his second pro season, but there's a very strong argument to make that it was blown out of proportion by the media, coaching staff, and some of the fanbase. Let's take a look back at the 6'5 center's 2016.
The Statline: 14 goals (-3), 22 assists (-6), 36 points (-9) in 79 games played (0), 52.8% CF at all strengths.
(change from 2014-15 in parentheses. All numbers at all situations and courtesy of War-On-Ice)
The Story: After bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2014, Hayes looked to use the 2015-16 season to build on that success and solidify his role as the Rangers 3rd line center behind Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard. Unfortunately, things went a bit sideways for the young forward as head coach Alain Vigneault started playing Hayes on the wing, a position that he didn't play much in college and almost not at all in 2014, and Hayes struggled to adjust to the new responsibilities of the position early in the season.
Hayes' play picked up through the season when he was put back into his more natural position of center and given consistent linemates, notably Viktor Stalberg and Oscar Lindberg. Though it always seemed like the big Massachusetts native was skating on a tightrope all seaso, forcing Hayes to play a more conservative game while other, worse players were able to skate by without so much as a passing glancem.
This is not to say that Hayes did not struggle this year. He did hit the usual sophomore slump that most 2nd year players hit, but the fact that he was called "entitled" and "lazy" in the press and that the coaching staff had a seemingly shorter leash for him than other players for no real reason led to calls for Hayes to be traded two years into his NHL career. The 6'5 (or 6'2 based on which site you look at) center did find a bit of security and confidence down the stretch when Vigneault put Eric Staal on Hayes's wing and allowed the two to play and try to create offense.
Hayes is a very good example of the perception of a player not meshing with the reality of his play. Hayes uses his 227 pound frame to protect the puck and to create space for his wingers; he also uses his high hockey IQ as well as his on ice vision to read where the play is going and anticipate where the puck should be going. This led to Hayes putting up another 2.0 P/60 season (down 0.6 from his 2.6 P/60 pace from last season) but also brought the unfounded criticism that he is "lazy" due to Hayes slowing the play down when he has the puck and is reading the situation. It doesn't help that he isn't the fleetest of foot on the ice, either.
In conclusion: Hayes did have a bit of an adjustment year that was blown out of proportion in the media, behind the bench, and in the stands. The Rangers have a very, very talented young center in Kevin Hayes and should look to use him in a more offense oriented role once they re-sign the RFA.
Hayes' offense did take a bit of a hit this season from his rookie campaign but he still managed to put up 36 points in 79 games which is good for a 2.0 P/60. It should also be noted 28 of those 36 points were primary points as well (goals+primary assists). Hayes struggled a bit to find a solid foothold this season and when he did find some semblance of consistency, he would turn the puck over or miss an assignment or something and would be benched or scratched. If the coach is able to give Hayes the slack he needs to be creative and to take some risks, he should be more than fine in his third season as a Ranger.
Final Grade: C+