With NHL buzz now shifting from the Stanley Cup and NHL awards to the draft and free agent season, the one thing that hasn’t changed with Kevin Hayes is that he remains unsigned.
Chicago’s first-round draft pick from 2010 has wrapped up his NCAA career after four years at Boston College. While the Blackhawks would like to sign him to a pro contract, they haven’t yet. It’s starting to look as though the Hayes camp is looking for another deal elsewhere. If Chicago doesn’t sign him by Aug. 15, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.
Just speculating, but one reason why Hayes might not want to sign with the Blackhawks is because he knows they’re a team deep on right wing, both in Chicago and the development system. Behind Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Kris Versteeg and Ben Smith, the Hawks have Ryan Hartman (first-rounder in 2013), Mark McNeill (first-rounder in 2011) and Jeremy Morin (Atlanta’s second-rounder in 2009) all pushing for promotions. It might be a full two years or more in the American League for Hayes, who is 22.
Hayes is a budding power forward who, quite frankly, had three ordinary seasons at Boston College before breaking out in his senior term. The Eagles’ website lists him at 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, which is two inches and 15 pounds more than when Chicago drafted him four years ago.
Hayes scored just 17 goals and 67 points in 102 games his first three years with Boston College. Then, playing on a line with Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau as a senior, Hayes scored 27 goals and 65 points in 40 games. The scouting report says his strengths are his playmaking skills, while his skating needs improvement.
Where might Hayes prefer to play? Florida and Calgary are two logical options. His older brother Jimmy Hayes was traded from Chicago to Florida this season and played 53 games with the Panthers (11 goals and 18 points). The brothers are two-and-a-half years apart in age. The Panthers aren’t nearly as deep on the wing and there’s a good chance Kevin Hayes steps right into the lineup in 2014-15.
Calgary also makes sense because of the possibility Hayes could be reunited on the best line in NCAA hockey this season. The Hayes-Gaudreau-Bill Arnold line combined for 77 goals and 198 points in 40 games in 2013-14. That’s almost five points per game. The three members of that line might need some apprenticing in the AHL before pushing for NHL jobs.
Boston is another option as Hayes is from the area and the Bruins aren’t as strong as Chicago on the right side.
So what do the Blackhawks do? GM Stan Bowman has said he’ll continue to negotiate with Hayes’ agent, Robert Murray. But if the sense is Hayes is bound and determined to wait until Aug. 15 in order to make the jump to the NHL quicker, Bowman should trade his rights as soon as this weekend’s draft.
If Hayes is dealt to a team that will attempt to sign him, you can be sure Bowman won’t accept anything less than a second round draft pick. That’s because as compensation from the league for not signing Hayes, Chicago gets the 24th pick in the second round of the deep 2015 NHL draft.
If the 2010 draft were to be re-held today, Hayes probably wouldn’t go in the first round. Too many solid prospects and NHL players have emerged after Hayes’ No. 24 draft position for him to remain in the top 30. Some of those names include Brendan Gallagher, Tyler Toffoli, Justin Faulk, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Charlie Coyle, Emerson Etem, Devante Smith-Pelly, Radko Gudas, Martin Marincin and Jon Merrill.
Would the Flames offer up a second round pick next year (probably early in that round) for the rights to Hayes? What could the Panthers offer? Are both teams better off waiting and not give up compensation, knowing they have the inside track come mid-August?
The Hawks would love to retain this organizational asset. Hayes might have his own agenda.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN