Hayes Excels in New Role as Shutdown C with Upside

When New York Rangers’ general manager Jeff Gorton chose to trade away his long-time top center Derek Stepan, it was with the expectation that Kevin Hayes—the former first-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks—would build on last year’s 49-point season and take ownership of a top-six role.

“He’s going to get the opportunity,” Alain Vigneault said. “I’m very confident that he’s going to prove us right, that we had every reason to have faith in him.” https://www.nhl.com/news/kevin-hayes-ready-for-bigger-role-with-rangers/c-290748236 Unfortunately, perhaps as a consequence of New York’s lack of center depth, Hayes’ role hasn’t grown like we might have thought. He’s being used as a defense-first center, which limits his ceiling. With Stepan no longer taking any offensive-zone faceoffs, a larger, more production-oriented role should have been available for Hayes. So, while he has stepped into the top-six, his role probably isn’t what was envisioned when he got the vote of confidence from Vigneault. <Read More break> Last season, Hayes had career-best productivity on a semi-sheltered line with Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller, but finished with a staggeringly high 59.3% defensive zone start (dZS) rate. While not always deployed against top players, Hayes and his linemates were often given tough zone starts, suggesting that he had Vigneault’s trust and nodding towards Hayes’ maturation as a player. To this point in the season, despite what preseason expectations might have been, he still has tough dZS rate of 58.55% and is pacing a disappointing 34 points. This is not the production you want out of a top-six center and, realistically, is lower than Hayes’ skill set should allow. But while we might be disappointed in his point production, as a whole Hayes has evolved into an effective shutdown center who, is still dangerous and shows shows the potential for greater production. While 30-something points doesn’t scream productivity, Hayes is a strong chance generator in an almost laughably difficult position for a top-six player. Of centers who have played 300 minutes, who have a dZS rate of at least 58%, and have taken 200 defensive-zone faceoffs, just three players have a stronger high danger chances for (HDCF) rate than his 52.53%. Of the four, [Mikael Backlund (54.64%), Andrew Copp (57.95%), Mikko Koivu (60.12%), and Tim Schaller (59.35%)] only Koivu and Backlund play more minutes and have more points. But therein lies the difficulty in both understanding Hayes’ role and, in turn, appreciating his game. While Copp and Schaller are well-defined bottom-six centers who don’t play big minutes or get matched against opponents’ top lines, Koivu plays on the Wild’s top line and Backlund is used in a heavy defensive role for the Flames to compliment their other centers (Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett) who get consistently favorable zone starts. For Vigneault, this season, giving Hayes a larger role means using him in all three of these roles, which metastasizes with a heavy dZS and, as a byproduct of being complimented in the middle-six by David Desharnais, makes Hayes a shutdown center. Having a strong shutdown center is advantageous to every team, but it’s tricky when that guy also needs to produce in a top-six role. Few in the entire league do it successfully and, this year, only Koivu really is. In the past, Ryan Kesler and Ryan O’Reilly have owned this role and been highly productive. Patrice Bergeron, often the gold standard of two-way hockey, has never had dZS rate as high as 58%. And while Hayes is not producing at the same clip as Kesler or O’Reilly, he’s not getting the powerplay time that they do to boost their numbers. His five-on-five (5v5) production is actually in line with all three, especially as a goal scorer. It’s tempting to try to draw comparisons to these three, but Hayes doesn’t really parallel one more than the others. He doesn’t have Kesler’s sandpaper, Bergeron’s flare, or the relentlessness that O’Reilly plays with when his game is on. Hayes, almost exclusively, is cerebral. While all three are intelligent—a must have to play a two-way NHL game—Hayes slows the game down in a way that the others don’t. O’Reilly is probably the closest comparison, but Hayes’ game is unique. At times, Hayes’ cerebral play draws the ire of Rangers’ fans, who think that slowness is a lack of effort. But Hayes plays a calculated game and even decides when he’s going to use his size and reach. He doesn’t play with the hustle, speed, or attitude to be constantly noticed (which, to be fair, is somewhere he needs to improve), but sometimes that just means being in the right spot. With neither a defense-first center like Dominic Moore or a highly productive but favorable-start-dependent center (i.e. David Krejci) in the lineup, Hayes isn’t being used in a top-six role, at least, not in the traditional sense. In essence, Vigneault is asking him to fill both roles of middle-six centers where most fit one. But because the Rangers have no other defensively oriented center to lean on, Hayes has been thrown into a shutdown role and managed rather well for it. This is emphasized, if not hammered home, by the fact that Hayes is the Rangers’ leading penalty killer. On a unit that is now ranked second in the entire league at 84.6%, Hayes leads all forwards in short-handed time on ice per game (SHTOI/GP) at 2:16. That’s 30 seconds more than Jesper Fast, who is known exclusively for his defensive prowess and a number that speaks to not only Hayes’ defensive ability, but Vigneault’s belief in it. While the sample is small for players of Hayes’ deployment, he’s been thrust into a shutdown role with tough zone starts and competition, and managed to achieve a net positive result in high-danger chances. That’s a rarity in the NHL and, if the Rangers are going to make a run this year, is a role that Hayes will have to continue to take ownership of. “It’s time to prove that I’m capable of being that guy," Hayes said. "You don’t want to be in the same spot your whole career. I have a really good opportunity and I need to grab that and show the coaches and Rangers fans that I belong there." In the top-six, “that guy” that Hayes refers to might not fit the prototype of what Rangers fans were expecting when the season started. However, a productive shutdown center in the middle of your lineup is a differentiator, and one that, while we might not have seen it coming, makes Kevin Hayes an invaluable part of the New York’s lineup.”>head coach Alain Vigneault said. “I’m very confident that he’s going to prove us right, that we had every reason to have faith in him.”

Unfortunately, perhaps as a consequence of New York’s lack of center depth, Hayes’ role hasn’t grown like we might have thought. He’s being used as a defense-first center, which limits his ceiling. With Stepan no longer taking any offensive-zone faceoffs, a larger, more production-oriented role should have been available for Hayes. So, while he has stepped into the top-six, his role probably isn’t what was envisioned when he got the vote of confidence from Vigneault.

Last season, Hayes had career-best productivity on a semi-sheltered line with Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller, but finished with a staggeringly high 59.3% defensive zone start (dZS) rate. While not always deployed against top players, Hayes and his linemates were often given tough zone starts, suggesting that he had Vigneault’s trust and nodding towards Hayes’ maturation as a player.

To this point in the season, despite what preseason expectations might have been, he still has tough dZS rate of 58.55% and is pacing a disappointing 34 points. This is not the production you want out of a top-six center and, realistically, is lower than Hayes’ skill set should allow. But while we might be disappointed in his point production, as a whole Hayes has evolved into an effective shutdown center who, is still dangerous and shows the potential for greater production.

While 30-something points doesn’t scream productivity, Hayes is a strong chance generator in an almost laughably difficult position for a top-six player. Of centers who have played 300 minutes, who have a dZS rate of at least 58%, and have taken 200 defensive-zone faceoffs, just three players have a stronger high danger chances for (HDCF) rate than his 52.53%. Of the four, [Mikael Backlund (54.64%), Andrew Copp (57.95%), Mikko Koivu (60.12%), and Tim Schaller (59.35%)] only Koivu and Backlund play more minutes and have more points.

Embed from Getty Images

But therein lies the difficulty in both understanding Hayes’ role and, in turn, appreciating his game. While Copp and Schaller are well-defined bottom-six centers who don’t play big minutes or get matched against opponents’ top lines, Koivu plays on the Wild’s top line and Backlund is used in a heavy defensive role for the Flames to compliment their other centers (Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett) who get consistently favorable zone starts. For Vigneault, this season, giving Hayes a larger role means using him in all three of these roles, which metastasizes with a heavy dZS and, as a byproduct of being complimented in the middle-six by David Desharnais, makes Hayes a shutdown center.

Having a strong shutdown center is advantageous to every team, but it’s tricky when that guy also needs to produce in a top-six role. Few in the entire league do it successfully and, this year, only Koivu really is.

In the past, Ryan Kesler and Ryan O’Reilly have owned this role and been highly productive. Patrice Bergeron, often the gold standard of two-way hockey, has never had dZS rate as high as 58%. And while Hayes is not producing at the same clip as Kesler or O’Reilly, he’s not getting the powerplay time that they do to boost their numbers. His five-on-five (5v5) production is actually in line with all three, especially as a goal scorer.

It’s tempting to try to draw comparisons to these three, but Hayes doesn’t really parallel one more than the others. He doesn’t have Kesler’s sandpaper, Bergeron’s flare, or the relentlessness that O’Reilly plays with when his game is on. Hayes, almost exclusively, is cerebral. While all three are intelligent—a must have to play a two-way NHL game—Hayes slows the game down in a way that the others don’t. O’Reilly is probably the closest comparison, but Hayes’ game is unique.

At times, Hayes’ cerebral play draws the ire of Rangers’ fans, who think that slowness is a lack of effort. But Hayes plays a calculated game and even decides when he’s going to use his size and reach. He doesn’t play with the hustle, speed, or attitude to be constantly noticed (which, to be fair, is somewhere he needs to improve), but sometimes that just means being in the right spot.

With neither a defense-first center like Dominic Moore or a highly productive but favorable-start-dependent center (i.e. David Krejci) in the lineup, Hayes isn’t being used in a top-six role, at least, not in the traditional sense. In essence, Vigneault is asking him to fill both roles of middle-six centers where most fit one. But because the Rangers have no other defensively oriented center to lean on, Hayes has been thrown into a shutdown role and managed rather well for it.

Embed from Getty Images

This is emphasized, if not hammered home, by the fact that Hayes is the Rangers’ leading penalty killer. On a unit that is now ranked second in the entire league at 84.6%, Hayes leads all forwards in short-handed time on ice per game (SHTOI/GP) at 2:16. That’s 30 seconds more than Jesper Fast, who is known exclusively for his defensive prowess and a number that speaks to not only Hayes’ defensive ability but Vigneault’s belief in it.

While the sample is small for players of Hayes’ deployment, he’s been thrust into a shutdown role with tough zone starts and competition and managed to achieve a net positive result in high-danger chances. That’s a rarity in the NHL and, if the Rangers are going to make a run this year, is a role that Hayes will have to continue to take ownership of.

“It’s time to prove that I’m capable of being that guy,” Hayes said. “You don’t want to be in the same spot your whole career. I have a really good opportunity and I need to grab that and show the coaches and Rangers fans that I belong there.”

In the top-six, “that guy” that Hayes refers to might not fit the prototype of what Rangers fans were expecting when the season started. However, a productive shutdown center in the middle of your lineup is a differentiator, and one that, while we might not have seen it coming, makes Kevin Hayes an invaluable part of the New York’s lineup.

Discussion





  1. Quote Originally Posted by ThirtyONE
    View Post

    Kessler? He’s ten times the player Hayes is. Hayes hasn’t ever eclipsed 32 points. He doesn’t bring anything to the table that Kessler does. Why is he the comparison? Hayes is a 3rd line center who can’t win face offs and plays the game of someone half his size. What about him is worth almost 5m?



    Hayes has had at least 45 points in two of his three seasons.





    Quote Originally Posted by Future
    View Post

    Ryan Kesler sign a 6-year, $41.25m ($6.875 AAV) coming off of three years with 49, 13, and 43 points. At age 29.

    You better believe that a guy who is giving you similar production in the same role, and is only 26 is going to get $4.5m, even if he's not quite as good.



    Kessler? He’s ten times the player Hayes is. Hayes hasn’t ever eclipsed 32 points. He doesn’t bring anything to the table that Kessler does. Why is he the comparison? Hayes is a 3rd line center who can’t win face offs and plays the game of someone half his size. What about him is worth almost 5m?





    Quote Originally Posted by Future
    View Post

    Ryan Kesler sign a 6-year, $41.25m ($6.875 AAV) coming off of three years with 49, 13, and 43 points. At age 29.

    You better believe that a guy who is giving you similar production in the same role, and is only 26 is going to get $4.5m, even if he's not quite as good.



    I'm riding with you on this one man. I like Hayes and what he brings to the team. The future (in this case) is bright for this kid! ....pun definitely intended!! LOL





    Quote Originally Posted by ThirtyONE
    View Post

    Why? What has Hayes done to earn 4.5 million dollars? Good defense? You pay 4th line money for that. Hayes and Zib shouldn’t even been in the same sentence. Ones productive. The other isn’t.

    IMO Hayes is part of the issue here.



    Ryan Kesler sign a 6-year, $41.25m ($6.875 AAV) coming off of three years with 49, 13, and 43 points. At age 29.

    You better believe that a guy who is giving you similar production in the same role, and is only 26 is going to get $4.5m, even if he's not quite as good.





    Quote Originally Posted by Future
    View Post

    Splitting the difference...Hayes at $4.5 is a pretty good deal, especially when you're going to have at least one ELC center on the roster for the next few seasons. If you've got both Hayes and Zib for less than $10m total, you're in a pretty good spot.



    Why? What has Hayes done to earn 4.5 million dollars? Good defense? You pay 4th line money for that. Hayes and Zib shouldn’t even been in the same sentence. Ones productive. The other isn’t.

    IMO Hayes is part of the issue here.





    Quote Originally Posted by Ozzy
    View Post

    That's a pretty good deal for both sides, Future! You missed your calling dude!! You should be an agent!!!

    Question: You give him 5 Years? I would!



    Lol, I'd be all for being an agent if I didn't have to go to that pesky little law school. But yea, I don't really mind giving Hayes term, especially if it drives down AAV. His game isn't built on athleticism, so he should be fine playing into his 30s. If you go 6x4.25, you've got him until he's 32 at a price that, even if he's a third liner, isn't going to kill you.

    I wouldn't want him to have a full NTC though, that's for sure.
    Yeah, It was a bad play, but he's been in the dog house under this guy from the word "go". He's not learning anything under this turd, so sure...I can deal with trading him, but his value isn't tremendous. It's only getting worse with numb nuts benching him. At least Nash is making a case to be very valuable to a team come the playoffs....same with Grabby!

    Zucc appears to me as if he's not playing as intensely anymore...looks like he's frustrated.
    Ozzy you've always been on the Miller bandwagon for years, but I'm not sure about him either.
    That pass he tried on the power play that Getzlaf intercepted and led to Perry's goal was pathetic.
    Other than Buchnevich I would trade the entire team for the right offer.
    And as much as people will hate this the most overrated player on this team is Zuccs.
    I think he has what it takes, RJ. Its the douche nozzle he's playing for....I think the same goes for a few of the younger guys...JT Miller included.
    For me the jury is still out on Hayes. Not sure I want to pay him 4.5M, especially for 5 yrs.
    Is it me or do these marginal players make way too much money these days?





    Quote Originally Posted by Future
    View Post

    Splitting the difference...Hayes at $4.5 is a pretty good deal, especially when you're going to have at least one ELC center on the roster for the next few seasons. If you've got both Hayes and Zib for less than $10m total, you're in a pretty good spot.



    That's a pretty good deal for both sides, Future! You missed your calling dude!! You should be an agent!!!

    Question: You give him 5 Years? I would!





    Quote Originally Posted by NYR2711
    View Post

    This is exactly how I feel as well. He is going to get $4-5M a year in his next deal. I don't think he is worth that much honestly. They are going to have to part with either Miller or Hayes, and I would rather keep Miller over Hayes.



    Splitting the difference...Hayes at $4.5 is a pretty good deal, especially when you're going to have at least one ELC center on the roster for the next few seasons. If you've got both Hayes and Zib for less than $10m total, you're in a pretty good spot.





    Quote Originally Posted by RJWantsTheCup
    View Post

    Hayes has done an ok job as a shutdown center this year and is the best at it that the Rangers have.
    Question is is he worth the money he's going to want this upcoming offseason.



    This is exactly how I feel as well. He is going to get $4-5M a year in his next deal. I don't think he is worth that much honestly. They are going to have to part with either Miller or Hayes, and I would rather keep Miller over Hayes.
    Hayes has done an ok job as a shutdown center this year and is the best at it that the Rangers have.
    Question is is he worth the money he's going to want this upcoming offseason.





    Quote Originally Posted by Zuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuc
    View Post

    Do we actually miss this dude?



    Yes we do. Only shutdown center on the team IMO. Miller needs to get back to wing and Zib, well he’s basically good for offense and faceoffs.

34 comments

  1. Pingback: Rangers Lose Pavel Buchnevich to Upper-Body Injury - Cleared for Contact

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *