It’s a fait accompli that Johnny Gaudreau will win the Hobey Baker Award next week.
And deservedly so. He’s run away with the national scoring title, totaling 77 points while also topping the country in goals scored and assists.
2014 Frozen Four
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At last week’s Northeast Regional, he recorded a hat trick and added three assists in an opening round shellacking of Denver, tying the second-most points ever scored in an NCAA tournament game. One night later, he assisted on two goals to help defeat Massachusetts-Lowell and send Boston College to yet another Frozen Four appearance.
The Hobey Baker Award has been signed, sealed, and a week from now will be delivered to Gaudreau.
But there’s another BC forward who’s also a finalist and deserves a share of that limelight. Kevin Hayes plays the wing opposite Gaudreau on a line centered by Bill Arnold, one that has become the most feared unit in college hockey.
Since being put together on Dec. 6, the trio has combined for 45 goals, 64 assists and a plus-65 plus/minus rating. And that was before the Northeast Regional, where it terrorized first Denver and then Lowell for another eight goals, 12 assists and a plus-21.
Make no mistake, Hayes is no mere Gaudreau appendage. He ranks second only to Gaudreau in scoring (63 points) and fifth in goals (27). In the regional, he scored three goals along with four assists.
At 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, he provides the perfect size complement to the diminutive Gaudreau and his jaw-dropping moves. More importantly, Hayes possesses a level of skill not seen in a collegiate player of his size in a long time.
Time after time, he looks like a man among boys as he uses his superior wingspan to shield defenders from the puck, then finishes the play himself by either burying his shot or feeding a teammate.
Exhibit A came on BC’s second goal against Denver, one in which Hayes emerged from the corner with the puck, as is his wont. He then carried it out to the left point, eluded two defenders, skated down to the slot, deked and beat the goaltender for his 25th goal of the season.
It was a move that would have been befitting the 5-8, 159-pound Gaudreau, but from a player of Hayes’ size, it was a stunning performance. And for those who’ve watched him all year, not at all atypical.
“Kevin is a great player,” Gaudreau says. “He’s a big guy and protects the puck like no one I’ve ever seen. It’s fun to play with him. He’s so skilled offensively.
“He makes [great] passes. This weekend, he made a behind-the-back, no-look pass to give me a clear break. He’s so gifted in the offensive zone. He sees the ice really, really well.”
And yet, to hear the humble-to-a-fault Hayes, it’s all just a succession of lucky bounces and great linemates.
“Luck was definitely involved,” he said after his line scored three goals in the first 10 minutes and six goals overall to eliminate Denver. “Pucks were definitely bouncing our way. Just playing with [Arnold and Gaudreau], the game is pretty simple.
“Billy Arnold, everyone knows and everyone says, the way he plays defense is incredible. He’s always back, he’s always in the right spot. Playing with Johnny, just give Johnny the puck and something nice is going to happen.”
While the point about great linemates can be conceded, Hayes’ dismissal of his performances as the result of good bounces — a frequent response in postgame news conferences this year — fails all tests. Probability tests. Logic tests. Eye tests.
Hayes didn’t cast a magic spell that allowed him to stickhandle through half of the Denver defensive zone. That was skill, not luck — a skill he’s demonstrated all year long. Surprisingly because of the size disparity, it’s also a skill shared by Gaudreau.
“Johnny protects pucks very similar to what Kevin does,” BC coach Jerry York says. “They shield the pucks, they’re smart with puck placement and they make it very difficult for a defensive team to get pucks away from them. They work really well together on that line.”
With a player of Hayes’ size, it’s tempting to look ahead to his pro potential. York compares him to Brian Boyle, the 6-7 forward for the New York Rangers. Boyle, like Hayes a former BC player and first-round draft pick, has scored 52 goals in the NHL.
“I see a lot of Brian Boyle in him in the way he plays, and that’s always a good sign,” York says.
“He’s going to have a long NHL career,” Gaudreau adds.
But Hayes’ pro career will happen soon enough. For now, he’s got one or two more collegiate games left to play. It says here we should all appreciate this special talent while he’s still part of our game.