Blackhawks’ Bickell is Hayes’ goal model
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter September 16, 2013 8:36PM
Los Angeles Kings v Chicago Blackhawks
Updated: October 18, 2013 6:30AM
The big bruiser with the surprisingly deft playmaking ability — the perfect power-forward prototype if he could just put it all together — wasn’t a complete stranger to the NHL. He’d had his cups of coffee, his promising stints. But approaching his mid-20s — an old guy by prospect standards — he had to watch from the locker room as the clock hit triple-zero and his teammates won the Stanley Cup, along for the ride as a Black Ace, but not on the ice as a Blackhawk.
That was Bryan Bickell in 2010.
That was Jimmy Hayes in 2013.
Since then, Bickell has gone on to become a part of the revamped Hawks “core,” a Stanley Cup champion and playoff hero in his own right and a top-line forward with a new four-year, $16 million contract. That’s good for Hayes for two reasons — Bickell’s new role is a potential glimpse into his future, and Bickell’s old role is up for grabs.
The Hawks are in search of a third-line wing, a physical, responsible presence who still can produce. Hayes, a 6-6, 221-pound 23-year-old, is the leading candidate.
“That’s the role I’m going to try to fill,” Hayes said. “He did pretty well with it. He was a great role model to watch, a big, powerful guy, and I want to play similar to him.”
Hayes — who won a national championship at Boston College in 2010 a couple of months before the Hawks won the Stanley Cup — played 31 games with the big club in 2011-12, scoring five goals, and 10 games last season, scoring once. But he had a breakout season at Rockford last year with 25 goals and 20 assists in 67 games and is having a stellar training camp — standing out at Notre Dame not just because of his size, but because of his play. He tied for the team lead with three goals and two assists in four short scrimmages and looked quicker and shiftier than the more plodding player he was in years past. He even scored the first goal of Monday night’s full scrimmage, crashing the net and smacking home a slick Patrick Sharp pass.
Hayes credited a rigorous offseason training program. He focused on his fitness and conditioning level, as well as his skating. Coach Joel Quenneville — who holds Hayes’ fate in his hands — has noticed.
“Jimmy Hayes had a real good week,” Quenneville said. “He was one player that really stepped up and showed us that he wants to make our hockey team. He worked at a different level in the offseason, he prepared himself to be in much better shape, and you can notice his quickness and his drive out there.”
Hayes is a tantalizing piece. He’s big enough to be a physical force and an imposing net-front presence — two of the few traits the Hawks don’t have in spades. The key for Hayes, as it was for Bickell, is to use his rare combination of size and hands, along with his improved skating ability, effectively and consistently. It took Bickell a few up-and-down years before it all clicked in the playoffs last spring. Hayes hopes to follow the same path, only more quickly.
“I have to learn to be consistent and play hard every night,” Hayes said. “Being a Black Ace last year, watching Bickell and seeing how he plays like a big guy, I’ve got to put that into my game and bring it every night.”