By most reasonable counts, the Rangers front office had a pretty crappy summer in free agency. They lost defensive stalwart and ‘possession god’ Anton Stralman to the Tampa Bay Lightning and replaced him with 38 year old Dan Boyle, who can’t come anywhere close to replacing Stralman’s even strength minutes. Even though the Rangers were right to let Benoit Pouliot walk after he was given an oil tanker full of cash by Edmonton, his production and possession abilities won’t be replaced by Lee Stempniak. Brad Richards was bought out and a replacement was never signed, despite there being plenty of options. Then there is the player whose name shall not be mentioned (rhymes with ‘ass’).
Luckily for Glen Sather, Kevin Hayes fell into their laps. Hayes may prove to be the Rangers most important signing of the summer. The fact that Hayes is likely Sather’s best signing has plenty to do with the bar not being set all that high in the first place. However, Hayes projects to be a damn good player in his own right and he fills more than one organizational need.
The Rangers apparently view Hayes as a center, which is potentially a game changer. Hayes is 6’5 and 225 pounds, which would make him a black unicorn for hockey scouts if he were able to successfully transition to center. He would be doubly valuable to the Rangers since they severely lack size down the middle and organizationally are pretty weak if JT Miller doesn’t pan out. Hayes says he is comfortable playing any forward position after spending most of his tenure at Boston College playing right wing.
Hayes likely would have been a mid first round pick in this years draft, which is probably the most important aspect of the signing. The prospect cupboard is pretty bare outside of Anthony Duclair and Pavel Bunchnevich, the latter of which was the only Rangers prospect listed in Corey Pronman’s top 100. The Rangers moved mountains to acquire Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis and are in the middle of stretch of not having a first round pick for three consecutive years. The Rangers being able to acquire a first round caliber talent who may be able to fill a glaring organizational need for nothing more than an entry level contract is potentially a gold mine.
Expectations for Hayes should be tempered though. It’s hard to imagine he will make the team out of training camp, especially if he does transition to center. But the mounting consensus that he is a legitimate top six forward prospect who possesses size, skill, and speed brightens what has been a pretty gloomy summer for the Rangers.