The emergence of Jimmy Hayes was a key factor in the Panthers’ improvement this past season compared to their 2013-14 campaign. Read on for a look at how the young power forward made strides in his second season with the Cats.
The Panthers initially acquired Jimmy Hayes in a trade almost two years ago that sent him and Dylan Olsen from Chicago to Florida in exchange for Kris Versteeg and Philippe Lefebvre. Last offseason, Hayes and the Panthers avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, one-way contract worth $925,000, and while he didn’t make the opening night lineup, he did play his first game of the season in the Panthers’ third game against Ottawa. Although he was shuffled around in the line combinations early in the season, he eventually found a home on the second line with Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen where they combined for 21 points. The second best line combination Hayes was a part of included Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen and together they totaled 17 points.
Hayes tallied his first point of the season in his first game back after being scratched for four games before that, and it came as the secondary assist on Aaron Ekblad’s first NHL goal against Philadelphia. Two games later, he began a four game point streak which included 3 goals and 2 assists and ran through the Panthers’ November 14th game against the Islanders. Hayes’s first goal of the season came during that span when he tipped in a Scottie Upshall shot which was originally thought to be Upshall’s third goal of the game. Hayes scored his 4th goal in five games four days later on the powerplay against Los Angeles. His first of three game-winning goals this year came on November 28th against Ottawa when Vincent Trocheck sent him a one-handed cross-ice pass which turned out to be one of the Panthers’ best highlights of the year. Hayes had just three points in his next 9 games and was scratched for the Panthers’ December 20th game in Pittsburgh. He returned to the lineup one game later at home against Pittsburgh and tallied two goals for the 3rd two-goal game of his career. There seemed to be a theme this season with Hayes where he’d be scratched for not producing and then start producing again immediately after returning to the lineup.
He tied his career-high in goals when he scored his 11th of the year in his 27th game of the season on December 31st against the Rangers. Last year, he scored 11 in twice in the number of games played. He reached his career-high four games later when he scored his 12 goal of the year against Calgary on January 9th. Following a span of 6 goals in 9 games from December 22nd to January 11th, Hayes went 7 games without a point and as a result, he was scratched for the Panthers’ game against the Devils on January 31st after playing a season-high 19:58 on January 27th. He returned the next game against the Rangers but went pointless until a day later when he scored two goals against the Islanders, including the game-winner which came from a rebound in front of the net on the powerplay. After that multi-goal performance, Hayes would go on to score just 4 more goals and notch 9 assists in the last 32 games of the season as he struggled in the second half of the year.
In retrospect, Hayes had a productive season in that he reached career-highs in goals (19) and assists (16) while playing in the most games in a season thus far in his career (72). However, something he’ll have to learn quickly is consistency. Over the course of the season, he had several offensive surges but those often came after going a number of games without any production at all or after being scratched for several games. To say Hayes had a bad season because he trailed off during the second half would be wrong, but to say he was inconsistent would be correct. The talent is there for Jimmy Hayes, and he’s everything you’d want in a power forward. He has a willingness to go the net and score dirty goals with the help of his 6’6″ frame, and overall he’s a physical presence on a team that is built around size. It will be important for Hayes to be at least a 20 goal guy again for the Panthers next season if the Panthers want a shot at making the playoffs as they’ll need several players to provide depth scoring outside of the Jagr line.