When general manager Chuck Fletcher made his first big move in his first offseason with the Flyers last year, there seemed to be a clear divide between liking the signing and not. While that’s typically how it always goes for incoming free agents, Kevin Hayes did everything in his power throughout his first season as a Flyer to prove why he was brought to the city.
While Philadelphia was a new city for him, the former Ranger had a lot of experience playing against the Flyers and had a general idea of what he was getting into. In addition to already having a grasp of the energy of the Flyers, he also had a familiar face with head coach Alain Vigneault. This instilled a level of comfortableness for the center, even in the first few days around the team.
There was no hesitation for Hayes to step up and make an instant impact, wanting to become a leader for the younger faces in the locker room — just like what he had early on in his career.
“As soon as I signed here, I was getting text messages from some of the players,” Hayes said in his first training camp last September. “I’m an older guy now — kind of. Try to help all the young guys.
“When I was younger, I looked up to guys and I’m just trying to be that guy now.”
Hayes hit the ground running with that statement and became just as important off the ice as he did on.
One of the best examples was the relationship he quickly developed with Nolan Patrick — who had been sidelined the entire 2019-20 NHL season because of a migraine disorder. While they didn’t play a single game together, a bond was created that will certainly play an important part to next season if Patrick gets the green light to play.
The two centers lived together — after Hayes bought a place in the area, he invited Patrick to stay with him.
“We’re pretty tight,” Hayes said in December 2019. “It’s not easy being a new guy here on the team and living with him makes it a lot easier. I feel super comfortable now with where I’m at, but earlier in the season, it was a little different. We spend a lot of time together, he’s a great kid.”
Hayes also commented on the importance of wanting to be there for the 22-year-old through his difficult season off the ice.
“We’ve all had to deal with stuff in our lives before,” Hayes said. “You can tell when someone is up or down. He handles it on his own way. I’m a pretty outgoing person, I can kind of figure out when he wants to talk and when he wants to just go hang out and chill in his room. I don’t really push anything too much on him, he’s a great kid and it’s been a blast living with him.”
This is about to play a huge factor into the upcoming season.
The relationship is already established between the two — and while Patrick has been with the team for three seasons now, his most recent was not ideal. Having Hayes come into the picture and be a friend and someone he could go to is going to immensely help Patrick when he makes his return to the ice.
Hayes has a clearer understanding of how Patrick deals with the mental side to his game, but there’s a good chance he’ll apply it to the physical part as well.
When Hayes was first announced to Philly, no one really understood it, considering since Patrick was drafted in 2017, he was automatically deemed by many to be a lock for 2C. Hayes held down the fort incredibly well, won fans over by quickly becoming a favorite, all while putting up 41 points (23 goals, 18 assists) behind Selke Trophy winner Sean Couturier. More times than not, everything was working seamlessly.
And let’s be honest, given it’ll at least be over one year since Patrick played in an NHL game, starting him at 3C when he returns makes all the sense in the world. He’ll be able to get his legs under him again, he has two strong 200-foot centers to help him out and because of Hayes, the pressure of having to have immediate results has subsided.
Now, Patrick is also once again in a contract year after accepting his qualifying offer from the Flyers. He still wants to prove himself and earn a contract that he deserves — and given the amount of talent the organization now has down the middle, this is healthy competition that may work in his favor.
So truthfully, keeping an eye on the Hayes-Patrick dynamic could be one of the most fun storylines for the upcoming season.
On top of that, let’s not forget that it only took Hayes’ teammates less than a month together to want to make him an alternate captain. That doesn’t happen without reason.
Hayes has brought a new type of leadership that hasn’t been in the locker room in quite some time — and that’s not a knock to the veterans or captain, either. He has simply been a strong addition, being a new voice with high energy, who is able to joke around, but also knows when it’s time to get down to business.
He accomplished quite a bit in his first season … and with Year 2 on the horizon, it just seems like things are going to only improve yet again.
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