There is very little Jimmy Hayes
wants to remember about last season.
Sure, the memory of hearing his name called by the Toronto Maple Leafs
in the second round of the 2008 Entry Draft is pleasant, but virtually everything that preceded that moment has been purged from his memory bank.
"It is what it is," Hayes said. "It's a fresh start now, a brand new season. I'm going to be a freshman at Boston College and that's the way you have to look at it -- that it is the start of a whole new career. Whatever happened in the past, nobody cares what happened in the past. You could be the best Peewee player -- nobody cares anymore. It's all about what happens now."
Hayes may believe that, but everybody else is still fixated on what happened to Hayes last season. How could such a hot prospect fall so far, so fast?
At the start of the 2007-08 season, Hayes was one of the most intriguing prospects in all of hockey. Playing "up" with the United States National Team Developmental Program as a member of the U-18 team, Hayes had 45 points in 56 games -- many against Division I college powerhouses. He appeared to be a boy -- albeit a 6-foot-3, 200-pound boy -- playing and excelling against men. NHL scouts were drooling about this prototypical power forward with impeccable hockey genes. Hayes is second cousins with current NHL player Keith Tkachuk
and also retired player Tom Fitzgerald, now a coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins
But somewhere along the road to a high first-round selection, Hayes' path to glory took a long and often painful detour.
Deciding to stay with the U-18 team for a second year, despite not being able to play in that program's many international contests, Hayes never found his stride. At one point, he was even sent back to the U-17 team to try to locate his confidence.
"It's a fresh start now, a brand new season. I'm going to be a freshman at Boston College and that's the way you have to look at it -- that it is the start of a whole new career. Whatever happened in the past, nobody cares what happened in the past. You could be the best Peewee player -- nobody cares anymore. It's all about what happens now."
-- Jimmy Hayes
He scored just 2 goals and 8 points in 23 games with the U-18 squad. He added just 2 more goals and 9 points in 14 games with the U-17 squad. He often looked lost and had abandoned the big-man game that had led to his rapid rise up the draft rankings.
Even teammates could see the change, shocked to see such a good player struggle so horridly.
"It was hard to see stuff like that happen to Jimmy, but he just stuck with it and we were pulling with him," said Brandon Maxwell
, a goalie that played for both the U-18 and U-17 teams last season. "Jimmy is one of the hardest workers that was on our team. He's a leader. You just can't say enough about the guy. He helped our team out."
And, it seems hard work really does pay off.
Late in the season, Hayes left the NTDP program in a last-ditch effort to find his way.
"The national team gave me plenty of opportunity to play; it wasn't on account of that," Hayes said. "It just didn't go the way I wanted and I wasn't having the season I had before. It was confidence issues and stuff. I just wasn't scoring goals. It just wasn't happening."
Hayes moved onto to the United States Hockey League, joining Lincoln. There, he started to find his game. In 21 regular-season games, Hayes piled up 15 points and a plus-9 rating. In eight postseason contests, he had 9 points.
It was enough of a bounce-back to convince the Leafs that Hayes was on his way back up and was a wise second-round selection in June.
It was also a strong enough showing to convince USA Hockey that Hayes wasn't all done. As a result, he was one of the 53 players invited to the 2008 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in early August.
Ron Rolston, who coached Hayes for part of last season, will be the coach that picks the team that represents the United States this winter in the 2009 World Junior Championship. He liked what he saw from Hayes during the week-long camp in Lake Placid, even though Hayes did not register a point in 4 exhibition games against U-20 teams from Finland and Sweden.
"I think he's skating well and he's using his size in the camp and that's what we wanted him to do," Rolston said. "I think his confidence is there and he's had a good camp."
Now, Hayes just hopes those good summer vibrations carry over to the fall when he reports to play for his hometown Boston College Eagles, the defending national champion.
"I'm a year older now and I'm starting a new season, a college career and we'll see what happens from here," Hayes said.