Blackhawks prospect John Hayden still believes staying at Yale for senior season was the right choice

Blackhawks prospect John Hayden still believes staying at Yale for senior season was the right choice

When John Hayden participated in the Blackhawks’ prospect camp last summer, his course for the fall was already set. The Blackhawks probably had more opportunities for young forwards entering the 2016-17 season than in the past several years but for Hayden, playing his senior season at Yale was the best choice for him.

“Obviously all of us want to play pro hockey. That’s our goal. For me, it was just trying to take a step back and see the big picture and not take it too fast. I think I’ll really develop with one more year at Yale,” Hayden said in July. “Obviously it’s not easy, but the pros will still be there.”

Fast forward to the present day and yes, the pros are still here. With his senior year complete and his game developed a little more, Hayden is now among them.

Hayden signed a two-year deal with the Blackhawks on Sunday and made his debut the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. Hayden, who the Blackhawks let take the first lap in warmups in honor of his NHL debut, logged 8:44 of ice time against the Senators. He landed the first of his three hits in his first few seconds on the ice.

His senior season at Yale was a successful one. Hayden set career highs in goals (21) assists (13) and points (34) in 34 games with Yale. For Hayden, there’s no doubt it was worth returning for that final season.

“It was an amazing experience this year,” he said in Montreal. “Obviously fell short at Harvard a few days ago but it was an incredible experience helping lead that team, especially the seniors I’ve been with for a few years now. I’ve been developing pretty steadily the last few years. I think coach [Keith] Allain has done a great job, so I’m very appreciative.”

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Quenneville said he sees the difference in Hayden from when he saw him in the summer until now.

“Not seeing him for a while and see him add more pace to his game. It looks like he can add an element to our team,” Quenneville said on Tuesday. “Over the last day or so, going over our systems, we’ll let him be aware how we play and what things to look for into the game. He’s a direct player and we don’t want him to change that too much.”

The pace of which Quenneville spoke was something Hayden wanted to improve over his senior season and he feels better about it now – not that he’s done working on it.

“It’s something I’ve been addressing every summer the last few years. Coach Allain plays a very high tempo game, so everyone year it’s helped me develop,” Hayden said. “That’s something that’s definitely come a long way, but something I still need to work on.”

Like many young players in the Blackhawks’ system, Hayden could have had a chance to make the team this fall. But going back to school, leading his alma mater one more season and improving his game, loomed larger. The opportunity that was there in the fall is still here for Hayden, and now he’ll see what he can do with it.

“I don’t want to play one game in the NHL. I want to have a long career. I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve tried to look at the big picture the last few years and understand there’s definitely a development curve,” he said. “I think was beneficial to be at Yale for four years.”

Oilers, Blackhawks' play-in round opponent, release training camp roster

Oilers, Blackhawks' play-in round opponent, release training camp roster

Sunday afternoon, the Edmonton Oilers released their Phase 3 training camp roster. Training camps begin on Monday for teams competing in the NHL's 24-team playoffs under the league's Return To Play program. 

The Blackhawks, who were at No. 12 in the Western Conference at the time of the NHL pause on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will face the No. 5 Oilers starting Aug. 1 at Edmonton in a best-of-five qualifying round. 

Related: Oiler's Mike Green opts out of NHL's Return To Play program

Edmonton invited 33 players to attend their Return To Play camp.

Forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl headline the team's roster. Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith are among the five goalies listed.

Western Conference teams will head to Edmonton's ICE District hub to prepare for the postseason tournament on July 26.

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How Blackhawks' Corey Crawford's career prepared him for Oilers series

How Blackhawks' Corey Crawford's career prepared him for Oilers series

When the Blackhawks signed Vezina trophy finalist Robin Lehner to a one-year deal last offseason, many thought that would be it for Corey Crawford. They thought Lehner would run away as the No. 1 goalie in Chicago and Crawford would disappear.

Those who still doubt Crawford, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Hawks, haven't watched his career very closely. 

Just as he battled to lead the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship in 2015 after suffering an off-ice lower-body injury and just as he battled back to be a reliable last line of defense after multiple concussions the last couple seasons, he battled for the Hawks' net this season. 

Related: How will long layoff affect goalies in NHL's 24-team postseason?

NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes thinks it's that experience of battling and repeatedly finding his game after long layoffs from injuries that could make him a dangerous opponent for the Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-five qualifying round in the NHL's 24-team postseason kicking off Aug. 1 at Edmonton, assuming Crawford is the Hawks' starting goalie. The Blackhawks begin their training camp for the postseason on Monday.

"For somebody that hasn't gone through (injuries) before, there's so many unknowns and then maybe there's question marks and the mental elevator starts creeping up at times in ways that aren't helpful," Weekes, a former NHL goalie, told NBC Sports Chicago over the phone. "But the fact that he's had that experience in battling back from injury and coming back a long way and having extended layoffs, this isn't foreign to him. 

"So in that respect, it should be beneficial in a weird way and also give him the chance to heal up and rest up even more by way of this extended pause. I think that those things play in his favor. Those things should be playing in his favor for sure."

Related: How Blackhawks can beat Oilers with 'wealth of success' in qualifying round

This year, Crawford competed hard for the No. 1 goalie role. Leading up to the NHL pause on March 12, he had made 39 starts (16-20-3) and had a goals-against average of 2.77 with a .917 save percentage before the Hawks traded Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of the trade deadline. With the Blackhawks, Lehner made 31 starts (16-10-5) and had a goals-against average of 3.01 and a .918 save percentage. Both tenders' numbers were hurt by an often struggling Hawks defense this year.

"I've always been a huge advocate of Crow. Crow's had an excellent run in Chicago," Weekes said. "I think the biggest challenge for him, which we all know, which isn't a state secret, (there's) just been some health challenges and he always battles back. Crow's a guy that'll battle and he's been able to come a long way back and rediscover his game, which is hard to do after layoffs, let alone multiple ones. 

"And I think this year, once he got back, talking to their goalie coach in Jimmy Waite and you got to credit Jimmy because he's put in so much work to be able to regroup Crow, numerous times. So this season specifically, when he first started, it was a little bit of a slow start as expected because he had such an extended layoff. 

Related: What's Blackhawks' key to victory over Oilers in NHL play-in series?

"But, I really think with them having Robin Lehner, it really helped because they didn't have to throw Crow right into the fire. And then Crow hit his stride and he's playing really well. ... He's played really well, coming down the stretch he looked excellent as well and that's great news for the Hawks because they're going to need him, especially in a shorter series in this play-in round against Edmonton and the fact that Crow has the experience that he does, he's played in huge games. 

"He's played in, obviously, Stanley Cup (finals). He's a winner, he's not afraid of the big stage. He's not afraid to play in a place like Chicago, he thrives on that and not to mention, internationally for Team Canada. I think where they're concerned, as far as his ability and his talent, he just looks like himself right now, which is great news for the Hawks and I know that his teammates have a lot of confidence in him so as long as he's able to... I know he's been on the ice, as long as he's healthy and feeling good they've got a good shot because he's been there before and he's done it before. 

"It's a unique opportunity for him and for his team, but he can lean on that experience of having played in big spots like the Stanley Cup Final and playoffs for years. That could be an advantage for the Hawks actually in that respect."

It's not clear who will start in net yet for the Oilers. Mikko Koskinen was 18-13-3 this year with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage and Mike Smith was 19-12-6 with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. 

Although some of their numbers may measure up to Crawford's, neither goalie's journey can compare to his.

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