NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
Jimmy Hayes saw Bryan Bickell become an overnight sensation during the Chicago Blackhawks' run to the Stanley Cup last spring. It gave him an idea of what his future in the NHL could be like as a threatening presence up front, one with skill to match his brawn and speed to match his power.
"[Bickell] has evolved into a power forward," Hayes told NHL.com. "He's a big guy who has a ton of skill. I know the way he played throughout the playoffs, finishing his checks and just being hard to play against it made him effective and successful, it triggered me to try to develop that game for myself."
Hayes will be given the chance early this season to show he's done it. He gave himself the tools to earn that chance during the summer by training hard on his lower body and working on his skating to become leaner, more powerful and ultimately faster and more dangerous.
Instead of being a lumbering 6-foot-6, 225-pound right wing, Hayes is now a tantalizing 6-foot-6, 220-pound right wing. He's just as blue collar as ever and he'll certainly throw his weight around on the ice, but now he's able to keep up in the Blackhawks high-octane, up-tempo, intense offense in the same way that Bickell showed he could last season.
Hayes, who has had two short stints with the Blackhawks over the past two seasons, playing in a total of 41 games and scoring 13 points, will likely get his chance on the third line with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad.
"I think the package is there and we'll look to put it together," coach Joel Quenneville said.
The Blackhawks were saying the same thing about Bickell in 2010, when he was a black ace during Chicago's Stanley Cup run. He had to get leaner, faster and more powerful in his legs to skate and keep up in Chicago's aggressive system.
Bickell worked at it, got his chance to be a full-time NHL player in 2010-11 and finally put it all together late last season to earn a starring role on the top line alongside Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. He's part of the core in Chicago now.
Hayes hopes he's following a similar path. He could be Bickell 2.0.
"He's got all the tools," Kane, one of Hayes' closest friends on the team, said. "He's skilled and I think the biggest difference with him now is he's really kind of come into his own and is figuring out that he can be a good player and that he deserves to be in the NHL. I'm sure it's an exciting time for him."
Hayes said the biggest difference he feels is in his balance. It's a result of the lower-body workouts and skating regimen he went through over the summer. Now he's staying upright as he battles for the puck along the boards and tries to gain position in front of the net.
"My balance, working with the skating coach here and the power in my legs has brought my whole skating in general together so I can be more efficient," Hayes said.
He knew he had to be if he wanted to hang with the Blackhawks.
"I know I've shown moments where I can fly down the wing and play hard, but I have to make sure I'm consistent and I can do that every night," Hayes said. "I think my fitness in general and lighter weight helped me become a more powerful skater. Now I'm trying to use my speed to my advantage."
He's using it so he can take advantage of his opportunity.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer