There has been a significant change in the Panthers’ lineup over the last several games, and it has nothing to do with the return of Roberto Luongo to South Florida or the arrival of highly touted prospect Vincent Trocheck.
It’s a development that was a little more subtle, but has produced positive results nonetheless. The move in question was the decision to put forward Jimmy Hayes on the power play.
Hayes, you may recall, was one of the two Young Guns, along with defenseman Dylan Olsen, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in the trade involving Kris Versteeg. The first thing that jumped out with Hayes when he first arrived in South Florida was just how big he is.
Well, he’s putting that size to good use now.
Hayes has been planting his 6-foot-6, 221-pound frame in front of the net and has been making life difficult for opposing goalies. It’s an element the Panthers were lacking on the power play.
The thing with Hayes is he’s got good enough hands that he could wind up scoring his share of goals by sticking close to the net. Just go back to the game last Sunday against the Boston Bruins when Hayes recorded both Panthers’ goals. Both came from close range.
It’s already been well established that the Panthers have plenty of skilled forwards in the pipeline — we’ve gotten a glimpse recently of Trocheck and Brandon Pirri, who scored his first goal in a Panthers uniform in the game against the Phoenix Coyotes Tuesday night.
The Panthers also need a dose of physicality, and that’s where Hayes could carve his niche. Former Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom had himself quite a career as a player whose specialty was doing the dirty work in front of the net.
The power forward who can score has long been one of the most precious commodities in the NHL. It’s probably too early to gauge exactly what kind of scorer Hayes could become in the NHL, but let’s remember he had 25 goals in 67 games for Rockford in the American Hockey League last season, a total that included eight power-play goals.
Hayes’ addition to the power play unquestionably has made a difference, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be a fixture on it moving forward.