By Larry Brooks
The Rangers have targeted pending free-agent winger Kevin Hayes, the 22-year-old Boston College graduate who was selected 24th overall by the Blackhawks in the 2010 Entry Draft, but who will be eligible to hit the open market on Aug. 16 if he does not sign with Chicago by Aug. 15, The Post has learned.
Hayes, who is continuing to negotiate with the Blackhawks, is expected to be pursued by numerous NHL clubs. Several industry sources report they believe the Rangers will be among a handful of finalists in the bidding for the 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-handed shooting right wing, who played two seasons with Chris Kreider, should he become a free agent.
A finalist for the Hobey Baker award given to the NCAA’s best player, Hayes recorded 65 points (27-38) for the Eagles as a senior while playing on a line with Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau, the center who joined the Flames for the final game of their season after having been selected 104th overall by Calgary in 2011.
Several NHL talent evaluators told The Post they believe Hayes, who did not attend Chicago’s prospect camp last week after having done so in each of the previous four summers, likely would have been selected between 15th and 25th had he been eligible to re-enter the 2014 draft. He is regarded as an offensive talent perhaps a bit lacking in the ability to grind.
Hayes, who is eligible/required to sign a two-year Entry Level deal regardless of whether he signs with Chicago or becomes a free agent, would have a shot to make the Rangers with a strong training camp. The Blueshirts appear to have vacancies on their third and fourth lines.
Having traded their first-round draft picks in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Rangers have been aggressive in attempting to sign undrafted college free agents in order to stock their system. Within the last 18 months, they have added defenseman Connor Allen out of UMass-Amherst; defenseman Mat Bodie out of Union College; center Chris McCarthy out of Vermont; and winger Ryan Haggerty out of RPI.
The Blueshirts are continuing to negotiate with restricted free agents Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard, all of whom have filed for salary arbitration and whose hearings will be held by the end of the month.
Kreider, whose hearing is scheduled for July 23, will get a two-year award that likely will fall in the range of $2.1 million-$2.5 million per season, even as the parties attempt to avoid arbitration by nailing down a two-year contract prior to the hearing.
Zuccarello, whose hearing is scheduled for July 25, and Brassard, whose hearing is set for July 28, are both eligible to become unrestricted free agents next summer. Hence, they would receive one-year awards should they actually go to arbitration.
The Rangers are attempting to negotiate long-term contracts with both that would entail “buying out” years of unrestricted free agency and thus would increase their annual cap hits over what they would command in arbitration.
Zuccarello, who would likely be in the $3.7 million-$4 million arbitration range off his club-leading 59-point season (19-40), is believed seeking a multi-year deal for at least $4.5 million per. Brassard, who would likely be in the $4.5 million-$4.75 million arbitration range off his 45-point (17-28) year, is believed to be looking for a long-term deal worth approximately $5.5 million per.
The Rangers could allow them both to go to arbitration and then attempt to sign them to contract extensions after Jan. 1. That would save cap space for this season, but could prove risky business.