Subscribers Only: Three RFAs Play for Contracts, Only 2 Step Up

In Blueshirt Insider, Blueshirt Plus (*) by Dan Akeson

The list of New York Rangers unrestricted and restricted free agents is fairly vast. In addition to newcomer and trade deadline blockbuster Eric Staal (UFA), the Rangers have 11 players on the current playoff roster who will be seeking contracts in the offseason.

UFA: Eric Staal, Dominic Moore, Viktor Stalberg, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle, Raphael Diaz, Antti Raanta

RFA: Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, JT Miller, Marek Hrivik, Dylan McIlrath

While this is a lot of working pending for new General Manager Jeff Gorton, there are three players who have created an interesting competition and conundrum as we’ve entered the playoffs. Kreider, Hayes, and Miller all vie for similar ice time amongst the top six forwards. Each has had their ups and downs and their struggle for consistency has given everyone pause as to who should be on the 2016 – 2017 NHL roster.

Cap implications aside, the on-ice product of each of these players has been fascinating to watch. Kreider, 24, a physical force with perhaps the greatest set of natural tools on the team, struggles with the mental aspect of the game. Can he be consistent? Can he put together all of his natural talents over an 82 game season?

Miller, 23, is very versatile in being flexible on both the wing and at center and has a much-needed edge to his game. But his turnovers and playmaking ability are significant questions, especially when you consider his gaffs in the defensive zone. Can he learn responsibility?

And finally Hayes, 23, who also plays the wing and center, but not necessarily proficient at either. He has tremendous offensive instincts, but is a liability in the face-off circle and quite often looks lost on the ice. Will he develop professionalism and commitment?

As we watched the end of the regular season unfold and the playoffs begin, it was easy to focus on these three players as it is quite possible only two of them will be able to fit into the salary cap. What has been disheartening is that only two of the three have really picked up their games.

Kreider and Miller, for all their inconsistency and streakiness, come to play each and every night. Once the season got into “do or die” mode, both stepped up. Physically and offensively, Kreider and Miller were noticeable and became the impact players the Rangers desperately needed. Certainly, they were not without errors or flaws, but the effort and production has been there.

And their regular season stats were nearly identical:

Kreider – 79 games played, 21 goals, 22 assists for 43 points

Miller – 82 games played, 22 goals, 21 assists for 43 points

Both good enough to tie for 5th on the Rangers in points.

But on the outside sits Hayes. His commitment and effort questioned in whispers throughout the season inside Madison Square Garden. Does he really have the drive to be a full time NHL player? Hayes played in 79 games which included some healthy scratches (at least one due to lack of effort), scoring 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points. This was noticeable loss in production from his 79 games played, 17 goals, 28 assists for 45 points last season.

Even when paired with future Hall of Famer Eric Staal, Hayes hasn’t been able to rise to the occasion. While Staal and hardworking Jesper Fast are driving the ice and working hard along the boards, Hayes is a step behind. Whether it is shell shock or disinterest, it’s not a good look.

These remaining games may very well decide Kreider, Miller, and Hayes’ futures in New York. As of right now, Hayes is the slowest horse on the track.

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