Jimmy Hayes Carving Out a Niche in Panthers Offense

In sports, there is nothing worse than an obstructed view.

Whether it’s a poorly designed arena or oversized fans, few things compare to the pains of struggling to catch a glimpse of the action right in front of you.

For NHL goalies, this pain has become all to real as Panthers forward Jimmy Hayes and his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame have made life in the crease a lot more crowded for opponent’s netminders in recent games.

Jimmy Hayes (Kelsey Hinds @kelsey1344)

Jimmy Hayes (Kelsey Hinds @kelsey1344)

Following the team’s return from the Winter Olympic break, Panthers head coach Peter Horachek made it clear to Hayes that his ticket to more ice time would be earned in the trenches.

“I said this is where you’re going to make your mark,” said Horachek. “You’re going to be a big guy who’s hard to move.”

Arriving in an early season trade that sent forward Kris Versteeg to Chicago, Hayes has already set a new career-high goal total with seven and tied his career-high point total with nine. Additionally, his 19.4 shooting percentage is good enough for second on the team, just behind forward Drew Shore (27.8%).

“I’ve got to continue to be a big forward and that’s where I’m going to be successful,” Hayes said of his role with the Panthers. “I’ve got to be around the net and pound as many pucks in as I can in front of that crease.”

With two greasy goals in front of the net in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the visiting Boston Bruins, Hayes, 24, not only earned his first NHL multi-goal game, but was also rewarded with a season-high 16:21 TOI against his hometown team. A Boston native who grew up just minutes from the TD Garden, Hayes became a household name in Beantown after helping Boston College bring home a NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship in 2010.

“He’s playing limited minutes and he’s getting some time on the power play, but he hangs around the net and he’s wiling to go there and be there,” said Horachek.  “He’s around the right place at the right time and we need more of that.”

Looking ahead, Horachek will have to continue to rely on ugly, hard fought goals in the crease as his very inexperienced Panthers squad will look to stay competitive while playing against the NHL’s best defenses for the remainder of the 2013-14 regular season.

“I don’t think we’re going to score all our goals going down the stretch on the rush, so we’re going to have to be more diligent about going to the net,” said Horachek. “Getting those second chances, putting more screens, second opportunities and tips. That’s where the goals are going to be scored.”

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

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