Many times this season, including after Tuesday's morning skate at Madison Square Garden, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault has spoken about the great wealth of talent Kevin Hayes possesses.
Now as Hayes returns to the lineup this evening against the Dallas Stars, after being a healthy scratch the previous two games, Vigneault wants to see Hayes play to his high-end skill level, and match that with a better work ethic and a deeper commitment to playing a 200-foot game.
Right Wing - NYR
Goals: 6 | Assists: 11 | Pts: 17
Shots: 70 | +/-: 1
"Kevin has all the possibilities," stated Vigneault Tuesday morning. "He's got great tools, we all know it. He's now got to find a way to put it all together. We're working with him to try and help him to put it all together. We need him to play well."
Last season Hayes scored 17 goals and totaled 45 points in 79 games, finishing as the NHL's fifth-leading rookie scorer. This year he has not seemed as decisive in his decision making with the puck and has struggled at both ends of the rink. Currently Hayes has six goals and 17 points in 37 games played.
Last week Vigneault clearly challenged the 23 year-old center with his public remarks and by sitting Hayes out in back-to-back games for the first time this season.
"I'm confident he's going to respond the right way," Vigneault said of Hayes. "There's been real strong preparation on his part and I'm expecting him to go out on the ice tonight and make the plays with the puck he needs to make at both ends of the rink, and I expect him to compete real hard when he doesn't have the puck."
There's not any grey area here. The head coach has laid out exactly what he expects to see from his young, highly-skilled player and now it's up to Hayes to deliver on those expectations.
Hayes will likely center the third line Tuesday, one that will feature Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast on the wings--based on the line combinations used at practice Monday.
Chris Kreider will miss his first game of the season tonight. The 24 year-old winger suffered a cut on top of his hand right near the knuckle during an altercation Saturday with Florida's Brandon Pirri and the team is being cautious with it since there is no way to stitch the cut up.
Kreider explained that the main issue is making sure the cut does not get infected. He referred to himself as "day to day", and Vigneault added that he expects Kreider back in the lineup soon.
"There's another player that's been working real hard, trying to put his best foot forward," Vigneault said of Kreider and his play so far this season. "We need his quality game because he can be a big difference maker by going to the tough areas and making the gritty plays that need to be made. I expect him back in the lineup, hopefully in the next game, and we need him to play well."
Kreider, who scored a career-high 21 goals last season, has just six to go along with 18 points in 39 games this season.