With Wednesday's signing of unrestricted free agent forward Kevin Hayes, who blossomed in his senior year at Boston College to become the second-leading scorer in the country with 65 points in 40 games, the Rangers not only added size and skill, but ramped up a training camp battle for what appears to be two forward openings.
Hayes, 22, a left-shooting right wing who also can play center and was wooed by at least half a dozen NHL teams, is listed at 6-5 and 225 pounds. He was selected 24th overall in the 2010 draft by the Blackhawks, who made him a contract offer that he rejected last week when he chose to explore the market.
The Dorchester, Massachusetts, native, who had Rangers winger Chris Kreider as his teammate for two of his four seasons with the Eagles, had 27 goals and 38 assists, mostly playing alongside of rising star Johnny Gaudreau. Overall, Hayes had 132 points in 142 NCAA games.
The acquisition is part of a continuing strategy. Without first-round draft picks in 2013, 2014 and 2015 because of trades, the Rangers have been targeting and signing undrafted college free agents. Since March, 2013, they have landed defensemen Conor Allen (UMass-Amherst) and Mat Bodie (Union College), center Chris McCarthy (Vermont) and forward Ryan Haggerty (RPI).
Hayes has a shot to make the roster if he can rise above the competition, which includes J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast, who played with the Blueshirts and Hartford Wolfpack last season; prospects Oscar Lindberg, Haggerty and Danny Kristo and veteran Matt Lombardi. Hayes' size may give him an edge, but some believe he can use some AHL seasoning.
Hayes and his agent, Robert Murray, met with teams during the weekend and Monday. The clubs reported in the mix included the Avalanche, Flames, Bruins, Penguins and Predators.
According to capgeek.com, which tracks NHL contracts, Hayes' two-year deal has an NHL base salary of $900,000 per year and more than $2 million in performance bonuses.
The Blackhawks will receive a compensatory second-round draft pick from the league.