Blackhawks breakdown: Jimmy Hayes

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Blackhawks breakdown: Jimmy Hayes

The 60th overall pick in the second round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, Jimmy Hayes made his NHL debut on Dec. 30 and would go on to play a little over 10 minute per game in 31 games. Hayes scored five goals with four assists and finished at minus-3 while dishing out 50 hits. In limited time on the power play, he did record one goal and one assist with the man-advantage. Hayes played in two playoff games, failing to record a point and finishing minus-1.

Boden's take: After an impressive training camp, the numbers game caught up to the big winger. But when he was brought up early in the season, he collected four goals and three assists in just 14 games and was a presence around the net and in the corners. When the numbers forced him back to Rockford, his return engagement over the final month and a half wasn't as impressive -- not just statistically (one goal, one assist in 17 games), but his overall effectiveness slipped, too. He got a two-game shot in the playoffs, but didn't do much with it.

Myers' take: The young Hayes was a solid player out of training camp, and when the Blackhawks needed more size among their forwards near the turn of the new year, Hayes was the natural call-up. He impressed immediately, tallying four goals and seven assists in his first 10 games. Hayes is a solid skater for a big man, and that 6-foot-6 presence was a bonus in front of the oppositions net. It was a good debut for the 22-year-old, and certainly one off which he can build this season.

2012-13 Expectations

Boden: The Boston College product would seem to be on the verge of taking the next step into becoming an NHL roster mainstay. He turns 23 in November and has just an 875,000 salary cap hit over the next two seasons. Do the Hawks and their fans have the patience to stay with him through the ups and downs, or is another season of shuffling back-and-forth between Chicago and Rockford on the horizon?

He has the size and skill this team sorely needs, it's just a matter of how high his so-called "ceiling" is. As we speak, roster spots are few, but I have the feeling Hayes is among the top two or three prospects the organization would have the most difficulty parting with if they're seeking more immediate help. A pair of Los Angeles Kings rookies -- 22-year-olds Dwight King and Jordan Nolan -- are both 6-foot-3 and are playing important roles in the Kings' Stanley Cup run. Could Hayes be a similar ingredient for the Hawks next season? I'd like to see what he could do with that opportunity.

Myers: Hayes didnt play much in the postseason, but that spoke more to his raw, rookie status than anything else. With this offseason and another good training camp, Hayes could fight for a roster spot heading into October - or at least be one of the first call-ups the Blackhawks make. Hayes says hes constantly working on his skating, as most big men have to do. It was pretty good last year, so a little more honing there will round out his game.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out highlights of Hayes above.

Up next: Corey Crawford

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

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AP

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).