Kevin Hayes admits he didn't have to dig too deep to find any extra motivation this summer to prepare for the upcoming 2016-17 season. After a drop off in his offensive production last year, while also being a healthy scratch for the Rangers' final two playoff games against Pittsburgh, Hayes is hungry to turn things around, both for himself and for his team.
"You always want to be on the ice with the guys trying to make a difference, especially with the season on the line, so the fact that I wasn't out there (in Games Four and Five against the Penguins) has stuck with me all summer," Hayes told BlueshirtsUnited.com. "Everyone has their own ways of motivation, and I'm certainly using how last season unfolded as mine. At the same time I turned the page on last year pretty quickly and I'm excited to get the new year going. I actually can not wait to get training camp going."
The 24 year-old Hayes admittedly struggled with consistency last season, his second in the National Hockey League. Whereas he made a steady progression during his first year in 2014-15--a season which saw him rank fifth among all rookies with 45 points and sixth with 17 goals--Hayes struggled to find a consistent rhythm to his overall game a year ago, finishing with 14 goals and 36 points.
Armed with an elite skill set, Hayes retained his confidence last year, but knows that consistent effort and production eluded his grasp much of the season.
"There's a reason why you're a player in the NHL, and my confidence didn't go down at all to be honest," offered Hayes, who did have 12 points in the first 17 games of the 2015-16 campaign. "I know what I am capable of and I have confidence in that. I want to be counted on every night, and I want to show (the coaches) that I can be a consistent player. I'm excited for that opportunity this year."
Jeff Gorton, the Rangers general manager, suggested last week that Hayes likely would enter the upcoming season with a chip on his shoulder, upset with how the 2015-16 season turned out for him.
When asked about Gorton's comment, Hayes did not shy away from agreeing wholeheartedly with that assessment.
"Yeah, absolutely," responded the 6-foot-5-inch center who agreed to terms on a new contract last Friday. "And it's definitely a good thing. I think me, and the other guys coming back from last year will have a chip on our shoulder, trying to prove some stuff to the coaches, each other, the media and the fans. I think it's going to help make it a fun year."
The Rangers were a 101-point team a year ago, following on the heels of a record-setting 113-point President's Trophy-winning campaign the season before. However with expectations so high, the club's somewhat inconsistent play during the regular season, and first-round ouster from the playoffs, combined to create a major feeling of disappointment on Broadway by time the 2015-16 season had come to a close.
Hayes understands that last season can not be deemed a success; but he also still believes that the Rangers are a legitimate contender in the NHL this year.
"I think a lot of teams would be happy to get over 100 points, but the guys here were not happy with how the season went, we knew we had another gear, but the consistency just wasn't there," explained Hayes. "We were not satisfied with that; and the organization expects more from us; but we have a good core group here. It starts with our captain (Ryan McDonagh) and goes up to the older guys and guys that have been there four, five years now. These are guys I'm happy to follow into battle because they know what it takes to win, they've won a lot of important games here. I feel good about our core and where we are going."
Now a third-year pro, albeit one with something to prove, Hayes contends he is ready to take the next step and accept more responsibility on ice and as a leader, as well.
"Every year you want to be a bigger factor on the team, and this is my third year here--I don't think I'll be labeled a rookie or a real young guy anymore now that I'm off my rookie contract," stated the former Boston College star. "I think the guys look to me to help the team every night, and that's what I'm looking to myself for. I'm hoping the coaches feel the same way. It's what I'm working so hard for this summer."
Training camp is still more than a month away so Hayes continues to work out daily back home in the Boston area, but his mind is already here in New York, ready to meet the challenges of the new season.
"I really can't wait to get started."