Rangers

Hartnett: Newcomer Hayes Should Be Able To Crack Rangers’ Lineup Immediately

Blueshirts Catch A Big Break Luring Sought-After Forward To The Garden
U.S. forward Kevin Hayes plays against Switzerland during the International Ice Hockey World Championships in Minsk on May 10, 2014. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. forward Kevin Hayes plays against Switzerland during the International Ice Hockey World Championships in Minsk on May 10, 2014. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

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By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

On Wednesday afternoon, the New York Rangers announced the signing of unrestricted free agent forward Kevin Hayes. The terms of the contract were not released by the team, but it’s believed Hayes agreed a two-year, entry-level contract.

This is a big get for the Blueshirts, who have done a fine job of stockpiling highly coveted college free agents, including Union defenseman Mat Bodie, RPI winger Ryan Haggerty and University of Vermont forward Chris McCarthy.

The Rangers needed to acquire a forward with offensive upside after losing winger Benoit Pouliot to the Edmonton Oilers via free agency and having exercised their final compliance buyout on veteran center Brad Richards. Hayes fits the bill.

Hayes has the body to play the power forward game and boasts impressive tools. At 6-foot-3 and weighing a little more than 200 pounds, Hayes has the body to be a strong possession player.  That means he’ll fit right in with the Rangers, as head coach Alain Vigneault demands players who are strong on the puck.

Hayes also has a great pair of hands and solid playmaking vision. He’s a natural right winger who also has the versatility to slot in at center.

The Boston College standout produced big points in his final year with the Eagles, scoring 27 goals and registering 38 assists in 40 games during his senior year. He was a plus-34 and was penalized just 16 minutes. Hayes was named to the NCAA East First All-American Team and Hockey East’s First All-Star Team. He was also a Hobey Baker Finalist.

He does have a reputation for being a somewhat streaky scorer. Hayes recorded a 12-game point streak last season, but also went through a few dry spells during past seasons at B.C. This is no different than any player his age. Rangers fans will have to accept the good with the bad while Hayes gains consistency alongside experience.

Hayes became an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15 after allowing his contract with the Chicago Blackhawks to expire. This allowed the Rangers and a number of teams to make their pitches to the former 2010 first-round pick.

According to multiple reports, the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators were among the teams in the running to sign Hayes prior to him agreeing to terms with the Rangers.

Expect Hayes to suit up for the Blueshirts right away. The 22-year-old will compete for a bottom-six forward spot and is an immediate upgrade over prospects Jesper Fast, J.T. Miler and Danny Kristo.

HAYES TO BE REUNITED WITH KREIDER

Chris Kreider likely played a big role in helping sway Hayes toward signing with the Rangers. The duo played two seasons together at Boston College.

Hayes played alongside highly touted Calgary Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau last season at B.C. The Eagles suffered a 5-4 upset loss to Union in the Frozen Four semifinals.

JOHN MOORE REMAINS UNSIGNED

Restricted free agent defenseman John Moore has yet to agree to terms on a new contract. The 23-year-old blueliner is not arbitration eligible.

In all likelihood, Moore will agree to a two-year bridge deal before training camp at an annual rate slightly above the Rangers’ qualifying offer of $850,500. The Rangers have yet to announce an official date for training camp, though it is expected to begin close to Sept. 18.

Once Moore puts pen to paper, the Rangers’ three defense pairings will be locked in. The Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi pairing will remain unchanged. Veteran two-way defenseman Dan Boyle is the best candidate to replace Anton Stralman on the right side of shutdown guy Marc Staal. Moore is best suited to remain on the left side of the Rangers’ third pairing alongside Kevin Klein.

PROJECTED OPENING NIGHT ROSTER AND EXPECTED CAPTAINS

Prior to the signing of Hayes, 22-year-old Swedish winger Fast stood a strong chance at locking down a spot on the Rangers’ fourth line. The promising youngster’s path to the NHL now appears to be blocked.

Fast will likely begin the 2014-15 season at Hartford. Unless the Rangers’ roster is hit by a major injury, Fast will probably spend next season working on his development in the AHL.

The speedy winger did not register a point in 11 regular season games last season with the Rangers. He had an assist in three games during the playoffs. Fast scored 17 goals and contributed 17 assists in 48 games for Hartford in 2013-14.

Forward lines:

Nash-Stepan-St. Louis

Kreider-Brassard-Zuccarello

Hagelin-Lombardi-Hayes

Glass-D. Moore-Stempniak

Spare forward: Mueller

Defensive pairings:

McDonagh (C) – Girardi (A)

Staal (A) – Boyle

J.Moore – Klein

Spare defenseman: Kostka

Goalies:

Lundqvist

Talbot

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey

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