Right, to the forwards, and let's start with one of the kids. Jimmy Hayes's next season will be far more vital than his previous one. But there were signs of what Hayes can be, as well as glaring ones about what he needs to improve to become that. But all of it seems correctable, and Hayes was not without impact this season. We can say that Hayes did a little more than just come in and fill out a few games on the 4th line because of injury. In fact, his coach could have asked him to do more, it seems. But most of the arrows are pointing up.
Jimmy Hayes's Stats: 31G 5G 4A 9P -3 16PIM -1.28 Behind The Net -.085 Quality of Comp -3.83 CORSI/60
The Good: From his first shift against Detroit on December 30th, Hayes showed a determination to get to the net and a sense of where to be to score. Hayes was constantly buzzing the opponent's crease, as well as not being shy about getting into the corners to win the puck. Provided some much needed size in front and along the boards, and certainly wasn't fearful of trying to use his size as best he could. Tried to provide some physicality, though not successfully consistently.
The Bad: There were some problems. Though Jimmy Hayes is big, at the moment he isn't all that strong. So while his mere size can provide problems for small defenders, he still can be knocked around a bit by those who aren't. As McClure described him, he's kind of a big mattress. At first hard to move and unwieldy, but pushed over with some effort. Secondly, Hayes doesn't skate well. It's hard to get around that. He's slow and doesn't turn quickly, and at the pace the Hawks want to play, that's a problem. And lastly, Hayes was bordering on defensively helpless. His lack of strength didn't help when trying to get the puck out when jammed on the boards, and his positioning could be....well, it's hard to describe because it simply wasn't there. Also, the far restricted time one gets at the NHL for chances would sometimes get the best of Hayes, but it is encouraging that he was at least there to try.
Contract: Two years left on his entry level deal at a cap hit of 875K
Stick Around Or Hit The Bricks: Considering age and contract, Hayes is going to be a part of the Hawks next year. And he has a chance to be a decent sized piece next year. While Hayes has his shortcomings, he's got something that you can't really teach. That's the nose for the net and scoring chances. It sounds so simple, but we've seen so many forwards who come without it. If you could combine Stalberg and Hayes, you'd essentially have Rick Tocchet. But this isn't Dr. Moreau's Island. Hayes needs a really good summer, most of it spent on working on his skating. A player doesn't need to be a speed burner to contribute to the Hawks, you just have to be able to keep up. Hayes isn't far away from that. The defensive game can be taught. Being stronger on your skates can be gained. A bigger nasty streak would help, but Hayes isn't without the start now. Unless he completely backs up, I look for Hayes to get every chance to gain himself a spot on the top six in training camp, providing some size in front and in the corners to open up space for his more talented linemates. If he can come close to that, 15-20 goals next season is hardly out of the question.