Around this time last year, there was concern that John Hayden was going to go the Kevin Hayes route and never sign with the Blackhawks after the organization drafted him. Chicago offered him a contract in 2016, but Hayden opted to return for his senior season at Yale. After serving as team captain for the Bulldogs in the 2016-17 season, Hayden signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Hawks and made a solid impression in his NHL debut.
Birth date: Feb. 14, 1995
Acquired via: 2013 NHL Draft, third round (74th overall)
Most recent stop: Chicago Blackhawks
Size: 6’3, 223 pounds
Contract: One year, $925,000 cap hit
We had Hayden ranked No. 9 on last year’s list, and it’s clear the Hawks still think highly of the Greenwich, Conn. native who was actually born in Chicago. Hayden’s size has always been his biggest attribute, evoking memories of Bryan Bickell with his 6’3, 223-pound frame. And that makes Hayden unique, with few other players in the Hawks’ organization having similar size. The knock on Hayden -- as you may expect from a player his size -- was a lack of speed. But with an intense offseason focus on that part of his game, Hayden was noticeably quicker in his final year at Yale, scoring 21 goals and adding 13 assists in his 33 games for Yale.
Soon after that season ended, Hayden signed in Chicago and made his NHL debut on March 16 against the Ottawa Senators. Two days later, he scored his first NHL goal in his second NHL game with an impressive kick to the stick to corral a pass from Jonathan Toews:
He also set up Jordan Tootoo for an easy tap-in goal with this slick pass through a couple Boston Bruins defenders:
Hayden played 12 games, scoring one goal with three assists. His ice time peaked at 17:10 in his third game but steadily declined from there, with Hayden playing under 10 minutes in four of his final six regular season appearances. He also skated in one playoff game, with no stats to report in the 5:39 of ice time he had in Game 1 of Chicago’s series with the Nashville Predators.
In a limited sample size, Hayden posted a 52.7% CF, which was among the highest numbers on the team and a good sign from a forward who spent most of his time on the bottom six after initially skating on the top line with Toews and Richard Panik.
What’s next in 2017-18?
The Hawks spent the offseason signing several other forwards who project as bottom six players, which crowds the spots that Hayden will be looking to nail down during this year’s training camp. The numbers were modest, but Hayden did not look out of place when he debuted with the Hawks in the final month of the 2016-17 regular season. With the ability to play center or right wing, Hayden’s versatility and size make him a great candidate to fill in a third or fourth-line role in the upcoming season.
The best-case scenario for Hayden would see him impress enough to occupy the vacant spot on Toews’ right wing, opposite Brandon Saad, on the Hawks’ top line. That’s probably too optimistic, though. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see Hayden split time between Rockford and Chicago while adapting to the NHL game. Remember, he’s only five months removed from the end of his college career.
But the Hawks just don’t have a lot of big bodies among its forwards, which could give Hayden a headstart among the crop of players vying for a roster spot at the NHL level.