Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes were playing cards with Rockford teammates in Grand Rapids on Nov. 14, the day before an IceHogs game there, when they got the call.
They figured the call from Rockford general manager was to head back to the Chicago Blackhawks. Nope. They were being traded to the Florida Panthers.
“It came as a bit of a shock; we didn’t see it coming,” Olsen said. “But then we started to realize the opportunity we had.”
Olsen and Hayes have been capitalizing on that opportunity with the Panthers. Both are starting, both are playing solid minutes and both are doing good things in those minutes. The two have wanted a chance to play — and stay — with an NHL team since coming through the Blackhawks’ system. It didn’t happen here, so they’re happy they got a chance elsewhere.
“You always want to be able to stick. It was difficult here to stick. But this is an opportunity for me (with Florida),” Hayes said. “Leadership’s been awesome. There are a bunch of great guys in the room who have taken me in and made it a lot easier for me to make the transition.”
On the ice, all seems to be progressing well for each player. Olsen has played in the last five games, averaging about 17 minutes a night. He scored his first NHL goal against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 5 and assisted on Hayes’ goal last night in Detroit. Olsen has gotten comfortable quick with the Panthers and his defensive mate Erik Gudbranson; the two were Team Canada teammates in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“We know each other, so that made it easier. And the systems didn’t take long to learn,” Olsen said. “They want to play a fast-paced game, everything up quick and generate offense. I think it’s been pretty smooth.”
Hayes’ minutes have fluctuated in his brief time with the Panthers — less than nine against Winnipeg to nearly 12 against Detroit — but he’s picked his spots for points. Hayes as goal in each of his last two games and has four points overall in his last seven contests.
The two are getting comfortable in Florida, both with their team and the weather — “shorts and T-shirts every day. Can’t complain,” Olsen said. As for the Blackhawks, they don’t begrudge them over the trade.
“They gave me a great chance to play,” Hayes said. “It’s a business. No matter what, you have to be ready to play whenever, for whomever. They’re a great organization that gave me a chance.”
Olsen, whose chances to come and stay with Chicago diminished with the Blackhawks carrying seven healthy defensemen last season, agreed.
“Obviously it’s tough getting traded. But you look at what the Hawks have and the depth, it’s a tough lineup to crack,” Olsen said. “Going to Florida, I thought it was a good opportunity to get my foot in the door and start establishing myself in the NHL. It’s been good ever since I played my first game here.”