The Flames didn't have a first rounder in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, but they have the chance to acquire someone picked there anyway. The Chicago Blackhawks selected Kevin Hayes 24th overall, and he still has yet to sign with them. Hayes will become a free agent should Chicago fail to sign him by Aug. 15, and it looks like that's what's going to happen.
Because Hayes played in college, the Blackhawks were unable to sign him without forcing him to forego his NCAA eligibility. He played all four seasons, thus delaying Chicago's ability to sign him until Boston College's season ended earlier this year: about the same time the Flames signed his linemates, Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold.
Just over a year ago, the Florida Panthers were in a similar situation with their former fifth round pick, Corban Knight. Knight played all four seasons at the University of North Dakota, and upon completing his senior year, indicated he would not sign with the Panthers. The Panthers then looked for suitors to trade Knight's rights to so they wouldn't simply lose him for nothing, and Calgary were the winners, giving up a fourth rounder for his rights and subsequently signing him.
The same thing isn't happening with Hayes because when a first round pick refuses to sign with a team, that team is compensated with a second round pick; specifically, the Blackhawks will be awarded the 54th pick in the 2015 draft due to Hayes' refusal to sign. It's a better option than trading him for a mid-rounder like Knight, hence, Hayes' future is now in his own hands.
As an unrestricted free agent, Hayes should have a lot of suitors, but Calgary should have a significant chance of signing him. That's because this past season, Hayes was on the highest-scoring line in all of college hockey, playing right wing on a line featuring Gaudreau and Arnold. And Hayes seems to have not only enjoyed playing with them, but considered them two of his best friends:
That's probably the biggest reason Calgary is a frontrunner to sign Hayes, but the Flames have another advantage. The reason Knight refused to sign with Florida was he felt he wasn't high enough on their centre depth chart, and wanted to make the NHL sooner rather than later. Calgary was a team with fewer prospects at centre, and it was anticipated he would, at the very least, challenge for an NHL spot right away: he was given the low #10 immediately.
When it comes to Hayes and Calgary vs. Hayes and Chicago, Chicago is a far deeper team, while Calgary is in the midst of a rebuild. Furthermore, Hayes is a right winger, a position the Flames are lacking. As of right now, the only right wingers the Flames have actually listed on their roster as such are David Jones and Brian McGrattan, neither of who are particularly good. Furthermore, the only prospects listed at right wing are Austin Carroll, Ben Hanowski, Tim Harrison, and Hunter Smith: none of who are standout names.
Should Hayes sign with the Flames, he likely won't be in the NHL immediately, but he could get the chance sooner rather than later. In the meantime, he may be able to reunite with Arnold (who will likely start his season in the AHL) and Gaudreau (who is a contender to make the NHL team's opening roster, but may start in the AHL as well). There's a chance all three may reunite in the NHL as well, but it's far less likely.
Still, those are two very good reasons for Hayes to consider signing with Calgary. Now, the question is: should Calgary pursue him?
The answer is yes, for several reasons:
- This was already covered, but he fills an organizational need. The Flames have little to speak of at right wing. Hayes would instantly become one of Calgary's best prospects in that position.
- The Flames have focused on acquiring players with size this off-season. Hayes is currently listed as 6'3" and 205 lbs. Think that's big enough for Brian Burke?
- His stat line last season? In 40 games played, Hayes scored 27 goals and 38 assists for 65 points. He was the second highest scorer in the NCAA this past season at 1.62 points per game, second only to Gaudreau. (For the record, Arnold tied at fifth. It was a very good line.) Nineteen of Hayes' goals came at even strength, so he didn't have to rely on the powerplay to produce, either.
Now, Hayes didn't always produce at quite this level. This past season was the only time Hayes met the point per game mark, let alone exceeded it.
Hayes did not play on Gaudreau's line in earlier seasons, which factored into just how much he produced then and now. This suggests Hayes isn't as strong a player as Gaudreau, as Gaudreau consistently produced at a high level no matter who he played with at Boston College, while Hayes only really flourished once joining his line.
Still, Hayes would be a welcome addition to the Flames' prospect cupboards. It takes talent to produce as well as he did, even if he did have the benefit of playing with the best player in college hockey last season.