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Teams ‘losing hope’ of prying John Hayden from Blackhawks, per report

Hayden could go the Jimmy Vesey route and become a free agent this summer, but it sounds like he’ll sign with the Hawks instead.

Finland v USA Blue - 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp

Teams looking into signing Chicago Blackhawks prospect John Hayden as a college free agent this summer are “losing hope,” reports Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Hayden could pass on signing with the Blackhawks to hit the open market in the offseason, but indications are that he’ll pass in order to sign an entry-level deal with Chicago.

“There are a few teams hoping John Hayden, a 2013 Chicago Blackhawks pick who is finishing his fourth year at Yale, will go the Jimmy Vesey route — not sign, choosing free agency instead,” Friedman reports. “But two NHL clubs who were looking into it say they are losing hope it will happen.”

According to NHL rules, a drafted college player can become an unrestricted free agent if he goes four years without being signed. The Blackhawks tried to sign Hayden to an ELC last summer, but he declined in favor of returning to Yale as team captain for his senior season.

Since then, Hayden has insisted he still plans to sign with the Blackhawks, but the fact that he can take the Vesey route if he wants has loomed since last summer. That’s part of why the Blackhawks need to make sure they have opportunities for Hayden going into next season. The forward turns 22 on Tuesday, and he’ll be looking to get his NHL career going as soon as possible.

Last month, Hayden was ranked No. 4 in our Blackhawks top prospect rankings behind Alex DeBrincat, Tyler Motte, and Ville Pokka. He’s a big (6’3, 223 pounds) forward who has learned how to use his size and finish plays (16 goals in 25 games this season). He projects as a near-NHL-ready talent, which is why he’d quickly have teams lining up if he chose to hit the open market.

Friedman says the Blackhawks are already making moves to persuade Hayden not to do that. They’ll have roster spots open, and this season’s youth movement has shown that they’re willing to move players to the NHL level quickly if they’re ready. You can also see why the Blackhawks didn’t want to wait any longer to sign guys like Nick Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza, who both earned deals after their sophomore seasons. Losing Hayden for nothing this summer would be a real disappointment after waiting four years for him.