John Buccigross, for some reason via TSN’s Ray Ferraro’s twitter feed, has also reported this. As is College Hockey News’ Mike McMahon. The Rangers were previously believed to be a finalist for Hayes along with the Colorado Avalanche.
It’s hard to put into words how massive of a haul this is for the Rangers. Hayes, 22, is not a blue-chip prospect, but he is one with top-six potential and is already very close to said potential. In essence, the Rangers just scooped up a first-round caliber player at no cost (except an entry-level contract). With all the prospects and draft picks the Rangers have been moving recently, this is a big pickup to boost the prospect pool.
More immediately, Hayes is now the clear favorite to replace the hole left by Benoit Pouliot. The Rangers failed to sign anyone who could legitimately step up into that role during free agency, and so they were prepared to go into training camp and let Danny Kristo, Jesper Fast, and Oscar Lindberg fight for that roster spot. Hayes could very well be more polished than Kristo, and is a more natural scorer than Fast or Lindberg. He won’t be guaranteed anything, but he it should be his to lose. I can’t imagine the Rangers would have been able to sign him without promising him anything less.
I talked a bit about Hayes in my previously linked article, and here is a quality scouting report from Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert.
Though I would have wanted to watch a bit more of him before making any official decisions, Kevin Hayes would have easily cracked the top-five in my prospect rankings and likely would have been third, behind only Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller.