The Florida Panthers have had a very busy off-season up to this point. They hired Gerard Gallant as Head Coach, drafted Aaron Ekblad first overall, brought in six new players when free agency opened, and have re-signed several key players for the upcoming season.
But there may be one last move for the Panthers to consider making before the start of training camp. Blackhawks prospect Kevin Hayes, brother of Panthers forward Jimmy Hayes, is set to become a free agent tonight if he isn’t signed by 11:59 and I think it would be in the Panthers best interest to make a run at the big power-forward.
Kevin Hayes was drafted by the Hawks 24th overall in the 2010 NHL draft and he can play both center and right wing. Like many of the other good prospects in Chicago, Hayes has found himself without a good opportunity to crack the line-up because of the large amount of depth that the Blackhawks have. Because of his desire to play in the NHL this year and the lack of opportunity in Chicago he has decided to sign somewhere else.
“We offered Kevin what we believed was a generous and fair contract. Unfortunately, he felt it was in his best interests to become a free agent. We are looking forward to the compensatory draft pick we are receiving and are focused on the excitement surrounding the start of training camp next month.” – Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman
Hayes spent last season playing college hockey for the Boston College Eagles and had a career season. He scored 27 times and added 38 assists for a total of 65 points in 39 games. The 65 points was good for 2nd in the NCAA and it led to him being one of the finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for college hockey’s best player. His teammate Johnny Gaudreau ended up winning the award though.
Teams rumored to have interest in Hayes include the Rangers, Panthers, and Flames. The Rangers simply might be looking for another forward to fill the voids left by the departures of Brian Boyle and Brad Richards, the Flames have his line-mate from Boston College Johnny Gaudreau, and the Panthers obviously have his brother.
In my opinion, I think that the Panthers could benefit greatly if they signed Hayes and it seems as if we could be one of the front-runners given the family connection with Jimmy Hayes. I know the Panthers have quite the forward logjam and I know that we already have tons of young players but can you really ignore the chance to sign a player with such high potential?
“Kevin is a skilled power forward who plays with enthusiasm and drive. He has very good hands and is an excellent play maker. He is a strong skater with a long stride, and uses his long reach and puck protection to beat defenders. He has an excellent wrist shot with a sneaky quick release, and will shoot from any angle. He controls the puck very well in traffic, sees the ice very well, and finds the open man. He has a very good knack of playing the puck in his skates for a big player, often moving the puck from skates to stick without losing speed.” – Central Scouting on Hayes
As it currently stands, the Panthers have just over $5.5 million dollars in cap space (crazy right?), have 12 forwards that have one-way contracts and 3 more in Huberdeau, Bjugstad, and Barkov on entry-level contracts. This heap of forwards may be something that hinders us from signing Hayes but certainly some trades can be made to free up some roster space.
If the Panthers add Kevin Hayes I think it could possibly put us over the top. He is a big forward at 6’4”, 216 pounds and he knows how to put up points. That combo of immense size and skill is rare and adding him I’m guessing would make us one of the biggest teams in the league. Plus he gushes potential and he could end up being a top six forward. It should be interesting to see how this situation plays out as I’m sure many more teams will join the race to sign this gifted player but if I had to guess where he signs I would say either Florida or Calgary.
What do you think about the Panthers potentially signing Hayes? Would he fit? Let us know in the comments below as input is greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading and be sure to subscribe below to stay up-to-date with Florida Panthers news.