Let’s talk about Kevin Hayes

Almost anyone will tell you that Kevin Hayes is having an outstanding year. He might not be piling up primary assists like he did in his rookie season, but he is producing like a top-six center. And that is very good news for the Rangers.

This year Hayes has 14 goals and 30 points through the first half of the season. Which means he has a real chance to approach 60 points. And that is an impressive feat for any third-year center, especially for one who posted just 36 points in his sophomore NHL season.

Hayes’ production has made the Rangers look like a deep team down the middle this year, even with Mika Zibanejad out of the lineup. Only Derek Stepan has more points on the Rangers than Hayes this year. And Stepan has seen over 50 more minutes of ice time.

Hayes has been integral to the Rangers’ offense. He already has 13 goals this season, which means he is one shy of his total in 79 games last season.  And Hayes has accomplished that despite a recent long goal-scoring drought. Before his two-goal performance in Tuesday night’s road victory over the Flyers, Hayes had gone 12 games without a goal.

Compared to some of his teammates, including Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller, Hayes has had an exceptional start to his NHL career. Stepan and Zuccarello are the only players on the team who were more productive in their first 200 games as Blueshirts.

Not bad at all. But the numbers we have discussed thus far the ones found on the back of hockey cards. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Hayes’ possession stats this year have been, well, bad. Especially compared to his peers.

Hayes has the worst even strength CF% (42.6) on the Rangers this year. And given his goal production at even strength, that fact might be hard for some fans to believe. His peers at the bottom of the possession barrel are his most frequent wingers: Miller and Michael Grabner.

Those numbers might be somewhat surprising to some fans considering just how good the Rangers’ “third line” has looked this season.

But Hayes’ relative corsi (Rel CF%) is better than former Ranger Josh Jooris’ this year. So there is that.

Hayes, Grabner and Miller have the highest even strength PDO among Rangers’ forwards. And this is a good time to point out that Hayes is shooting 20 percent at evens.

Hayes, Grabner and Miller would be the top three skaters in PDO on New York if not for Nick Holden’s 104.2 PDO. But, as a trio, they nearly break even in regards to goals for and goals against per 60 at even strength. So, thanks to some hot shooting and/or an ability to create high-quality scoring chances, they have not hurt the team.

Even with those possession numbers in mind, Hayes and his linemates have undoubtedly been crucial to the Rangers’ success this season. And it goes far beyond their counting stats.

They represent three of the Rangers’ four most-deployed forwards on a vastly improved penalty kill this year. And Hayes, Miller and Grabner are three of the Rangers’ six highest-scoring forwards this year despite all having very little power play time. Hayes leads the trio with his average of just 1:32 PP TOI/G, which is ninth among Rangers’ forwards this year.

But there is no escaping the fact that Hayes and his line need to be better at even strength this year. Hayes and his line simply allow too many shots. And that fact would be a great deal more obvious if it wasn’t clouded by the success of the trio scoring 30 of the Rangers’ 89 five-on-five goals this year.

It’s hard not to get excited about Hayes and his production this year.

His numbers have rebounded dramatically from where they were last season. That 36 point season had Rangers fans calling him lazy, slow, and ineffective. We haven’t heard those adjectives this year. Hayes is also finally starting to shoot in situations where he would almost always pass in the previous two seasons.

Back in October Hayes was widely considered the team’s third-best center behind Stepan and Zibanejad (although I’m sure some debate this). And halfway through this season it looks like he will approach 60 points this year with an average of 16:24 TOI/G.

Not bad for a third-year, 24-year-old center on a $2.6 million cap hit bridge deal. Not bad at all.