College or pro hockey? Many players have faced that decision during their careers.
Maybe the possibility of more success at college wins out. Or maybe the team that drafted them has more opportunities for them to play now. It’s a tough decision.
For John Hayden, however, Yale is where he’s continued to progress at a great pace. And Yale is where he’ll be again this fall.
“I’ve been developing a decent amount, better than I expected, since I got to Yale, with Keith Allain, a great coach, and amazing teammates,” Hayden said following Monday’s prospect camp sessions. “I’m growing as a hockey player and as a person. I wanted to be a senior, in that leadership position, and I really think that’ll benefit me moving forward once I sign here.”
Hayden, who the Blackhawks took 74th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, will be a senior for the Bulldogs this coming season. He finished 2015-16 with 23 points, including a team-leading 16 goals in 32 games. As much as he’s progressed the past three seasons Hayden feels he still has more on which to improve.
“For me it’s always about quickness,” he said. “If you watch the NHL now it’s such a fast-paced game. So for me to translate to the next level, I really need to elevate my speed.”
Still, leaping to the next level is always enticing. No matter which choice players make, the decision certainly requires a lot of thought. Nick Schmaltz said the same last month, when he decided to leave North Dakota after two seasons to sign with the Blackhawks. Hayden said what he could gain with another year at Yale loomed larger.
“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,” Hayden said. “I think I’ll really develop with one more year at Yale. Great coaching staff, great teammates and a great school. Obviously it’s not easy but the pros will still be there and I’m excited to be back at Yale.”
Yale should be in good shape this coming season. The Bulldogs will have nine incoming freshmen, “so leadership’s important. But I think we’re ready for the task at hand,” Hayden said.
The pull of the pros could have swayed Hayden. The Blackhawks are in a position where they’ll be looking for younger guys to make an impact this season – general manager Stan Bowman has said that several times. The Blackhawks could be doing the same over the next few seasons. Hayden is willing to wait until then. Finishing at Yale is calling him now.
“I just try to worry about the moment, where I am. But Mr. Bowman’s obviously said the young guys will have a lot of opportunity,” Hayden said. “That’s all the motivation I need to work as hard as possible to get there."