In his first season in Philadelphia after signing a seven-year contract last summer, center Kevin Hayes has become an instant fan favorite among Flyers fans. While his popularity is partially driven by his on-ice productivity (including 23 goals overall, four shorthanded tallies and five game-winners), his gregarious and fun-loving personality also has a lot to do with it.
Hayes, who will turn 28 on May 8, has been a galvanizing force in the Flyers' locker room and a favorite both in the media and the community. He helps keep things loose with his running commentaries, and seemingly endless well of nicknames for his teammates.
On the ice, the 6-foot-5, 216-pound Hayes has forged a formidable one-two punch down the middle in conjunction with top line center Sean Couturier. One of the hardest players in the NHL to separate from the puck, Hayes excels in playing keep-away until he finds an open teammate to whom he can dish a pass.
Hayes has credited head coach Alain Vigneault -- who previously coached him for four seasons with the New York Rangers before they were reunited in Philadelphia this year -- with helping him to become a two-way player. When Hayes first came to the NHL from Boston College, he was strictly an offensive-minded player.
It took some tough love from Vigneault, including periodic benchings early in his career but eventually things clicked for Hayes. He became a much more complete player. Today, he and Vigneault now have a very strong working relationship. From time to time, Vigneault will still push Hayes to elevate his overall level of play but Hayes understands that the challenges are steeped in the coach's confidence in his abilities.
Prior to this season, Hayes was known as more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer. This year, Hayes actually has more goals than assists, as he has focused on shooting the puck more frequently. If not for the NHL pause for the global Covid-19 pandemic, Hayes almost certainly would have bypassed the career-high 25 goals he scored with the Rangers in 2017-18.
Hayes has spent short stints on the Flyers' first power play unit this season but has primarily been a fixture on the second unit. Overall ,he has averaged 1:39 of power play time per game. His larger impact, however, has been on the team's greatly improved penalty kill. Among Flyers forwards, only Sean Couturier and trade deadline acquisition Nate Thompson have averaged (slightly) more PK ice time per game than Hayes' average of 2:01 of penalty killing time.
FIVE KEY FACTS
1) Hayes has averaged 13:12 of five-on-five ice time per game -- fourth among Flyers forwards -- and 17:44 of overall ice time.
2) His four shorthanded goals this season are tied for the NHL lead this season. Carolina's Sebastian Aho, Colorado's Vladislav Namestnikov (previously with the Rangers and then Ottawa), and Ottawa's Chris Tierney have also scored four shorthanders this season.
3) Over the final 27 games the Flyers played prior to the NHL's schedule pause, Hayes posted 11 goals, seven assists and 18 points.
4) Hayes has logged 20 or more minutes of ice time in four games this season, with a season 22:19 across 29 shifts coming in the Flyers' 2-1 shootout loss to the Capitals on Nov. 13.
5) The second-line center has contributed eight multi-point games this season, including three-point efforts against Columbus (Oct. 26), Colorado (Feb. 1), and San Jose (Feb. 25).
1) Shorthanded magic x4: Hayes' four shorthanded goals this season are the most by a Flyers player since Matt Read tallied four in 2013-14. For analysis and video breakdown of each of Hayes' four shorties this season, see Inside the Moment: Nothing Short of Spectacular.
2) Nov. 30 @ MTL (8:53, 2nd period): The Flyers capped off their league-best record in November with a dramatic overtime win in Montreal. Twice, Philly erased one-goal deficits. Here, Hayes equalized the game at 2-2 in the second period with this snipe as he curled untouched in the right circle.The tally was Hayes' 100th career NHL regular season goal.
3) Feb. 20 @ CBJ (3:51, OT): Hayes' capped off the Flyers home-and-home sweep of the Blue Jackets with a dramatic overtime goal, which he memorably celebrated by wrapping an invisible heavyweight championship belt around his waist. On the play, Hayes took a pass from Travis Konecny. With two defenders on their off-side and their communications scrambled, skated into the left circle and fired a shot that found the net to win the game.
4) Feb. 25 vs. SJ (3:43, 3rd period): Hayes' second of two tallies in the game was an opportunistic one as he went to the net, was in just the right spot to claim a loose puck and quickly put it home.
THEY SAID IT
"Kevin is such a smart player. It's hard to play against him. He's good with the puck and responsible without the puck. He's a great guy, too."
-- Scott Laughton, July 18, 2019.
HE SAID IT
"It's an unbelievable group, not even the players, it's the equipment staff, the trainers, the nutritionist, the GM, the Assistant GM, all the people behind the scenes. It's an easy organization to enter and kind of feel great about yourself. Everyone's trying to get the best out of you and that's what I try to do with guys. I try to enter the arena every day pretty happy. For me, it's the best job in the whole entire world. I don't know where I would be without hockey."
-- Kevin Hayes, April 3, 2020.