Hayes ‘needs to pick up his game,’ says AV

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Rangers forward Kevin Hayes enjoyed a great rookie campaign last year, scoring 17 goals and 45 points to finish seventh in Calder voting.

Now, his head coach is getting a head start on preventing a sophomore slump.

“I know it’s training camp,” Alain Vigneault said on Friday, per Bergen Record. “But Kevin needs to pick up his game.”

Hayes, 23, is expected to see an increased role this season in New York, and will likely see more minutes that the 13:02 TOI he averaged as a rookie. His size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and skill set make him a difficult matchup for opponents, and he’s being counted on to pick up the offense lost after Martin St. Louis retired and Carl Hagelin was flipped to Anaheim.

There’s another angle to this as well.

The Rangers were aiming to play Hayes at center this season, and gave him a shot at manning the middle in Thursday’s game against Boston. While he did score, his overall performance is what drew Vigneault’s criticism; Hayes had a rough night in the faceoff circle and, per the New York Post, “didn’t have much of a game.”

Hayes will return to the wing tomorrow night when New York takes on New Jersey. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to his coach’s remarks.