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Flyers hope acquisitions at center, defenseman lead to playoff berth

Vigneault says of Hayes, Niskanen, Braun, 'we've added some good pieces'

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

VANCOUVER -- Kevin Hayes signing with the Philadelphia Flyers gives them the size, skill and depth that will help them compete for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, coach Alain Vigneault said Friday.

Hayes signed a seven-year, $49.98 million contract ($7.14 million average annual value) with the Flyers on Wednesday. The 6-foot-5, 216-pound forward slots in as the second-line center, joining No. 1 center Sean Couturier (6-3, 211) and third-year forward Nolan Patrick (6-2, 198), who will be on the third line.

"Now we've got our middle line with [Couturier] and Hayes and Nolan, that's good size," Vigneault said. "I like the look of that. I think at the end of the day, having that type of centerman we have gives us real good strength down the middle. You see all the top teams, they've got a lot of strength through the middle."

 

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Vigneault, who was hired by the Flyers on April 15, coached Hayes for four seasons with the New York Rangers (2014-18). The hope is playing for a familiar coach and coming off a personal NHL-best 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) in 71 games with the Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, Hayes can help the Flyers return to the postseason after they finished 16 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card from the Eastern Conference this season.

"In our mind Kevin is a top-six forward," Vigneault said. "His 5-on-5 numbers are real good, he killed penalties for me, played a little bit of power play. He played a little bit more on the power play (under Rangers coach David Quinn this season). He fit a lot of the check marks we were looking for, a centerman, top-six forward, can play 5-on-5 and specialty teams. ... He's really developed himself into a real solid two-way player, playing that 200-foot game, that's what you want."

Video: Kevin Hayes signs seven-year contract with Flyers

Vigneault said Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher consulted with him prior to acquiring Hayes in a trade with the Jets for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on June 3. In the days between the trade and the signing, Vigneault said he spoke with Hayes to help sell the Flyers as his best option; Hayes could have become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"I talked to him a couple times," Vigneault said. "I'm new to Philly too, but to give him my perspective. One thing about Kevin, when we were talking about this whole thing was his willingness to go somewhere he had a place to win. He felt that way about Philly."

The Flyers also reshaped their defense in two trades, acquiring defenseman Matt Niskanen from the Washington Capitals for defenseman Radko Gudas on June 14, and defenseman Justin Braun from the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday for a second-round pick in the 2019 draft and a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Niskanen and Braun each shoot right-handed, which is an area the Flyers were hoping to address. Gudas had been the only right-shot defenseman to play more than 30 games in a season for the Flyers during the past four seasons.

"That's something, when I first talked with Chuck (prior to being hired) that he was looking at seeing what we could do to bring in at least one right-handed defensemen, and he brought in two," Vigneault said. "I like right now our whole depth on [defense], what we have and the guys are going to fight for ice time. That good internal competition is what you need."

Video: Caps deal Niskanen to Flyers in exchange for Gudas

Vigneault is settling into his new job after spending a month in Europe coaching Canada to a second-place finish at the 2019 IIHF World Championship, which ended May 26. With prospect development camp starting Monday, he's excited that he can put his full focus on the Flyers.

"It's coming together," he said. "Chuck has said he's going to be assertive and aggressive, which he's been. We've been in constant communication about what's out there, how we can improve the team. We've added some good pieces, two on defense and one up front. We're going to continue to see what we can do."

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