At the beginning of Flyers training camp in September, Kevin Hayes said with a slight smile:
“I think the fans should be excited — I think they're excited, some of them might not be too excited — but I feel great, this is the best I've ever felt and probably the most in shape, most excited I've ever been in my hockey career."
With time, fans have gotten to know Hayes — the player and person.
And they've taken a liking to him.
Further proof of that came Monday as Hayes was named the recipient of the Flyers' 2019-20 Gene Hart Memorial Award, which is given to the Flyer who demonstrates the most "heart,” an honor voted on by members of the Philadelphia Flyers Fan Club. The club will make a $1,000 donation to a charity of Hayes’ choosing.
“I’m humbled that the fan club chose me to receive this award, especially considering all of our success has come from an entire team effort and the willingness to give everything we have to win,” Hayes said in a statement released by the Flyers. "This being my first year, I felt right at home from Day 1. I love this team, organization, fan base and city. It’s hard not to love playing at the Wells Fargo Center every night in front of the best fans in the league.”
With a mixture of lightheartedness and leadership, Hayes has won over his new teammates and fans during the first season of his seven-year, $50 million contract. At first, Hayes' style of play and past offensive production didn't scream excitement for fans when the 6-foot-5 center was acquired and signed in June 2019. However, Hayes provides winning qualities that don't always pop out at you — puck protection, disruptive size, defensive abilities and prowess on the penalty kill.
He has made those strengths clear in Year 1 with the Flyers. He was also on pace to break his career high of 25 goals (he finished with 23 in 69 games) before the coronavirus outbreak cut the 2019-20 regular season short.
“I think at the beginning, with the media and the fans, when you sign that deal, you want to come in and be on everybody’s good graces right away,” Hayes said in November. “When you’re not putting up points, it’s easy to think you’re not playing great hockey.”
Flyers fans are now on board with Hayes' hockey and heart.
The Flyers are handing out their annual team awards throughout this week. Below is the schedule:
Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.