Jimmy Hayes admits his 2013 Chicago Blackhawks debut was a little skittish.
“I was a little anxious,” Hayes said of that game, a 2-1 shootout victory in Columbus. “It was the first game of the year again, and it was good to get those jitters out of the way. I felt better as the game went on.”
And apparently, Hayes has continued to feel better with every passing game.
Hayes scored his first goal of the season on Monday night as part of the Blackhawks’ 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. The 6-foot-6, 221-pound Hayes is expected to be a good net presence for the Blackhawks, and that’s where he was in the first period when he took a Patrick Kane feed and scored on his backhand.
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Hayes had to adjust in a hurry, much like he did when he made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks last season. And much like he did even this season in Rockford, when Hayes was switched from wing to center.
“It was my first time playing it, and it was a little different,” he said. “It took a little time to get used to having more responsibility, taking face-offs and what not. There’s more going on at center than wing. But I had to learn that position, and it was good to learn it.”
Getting some center work is becoming commonplace in the Blackhawks’ system. Kane and Patrick Sharp have done their turns there. Andrew Shaw was moved to center in Rockford this season and has developed well as the Blackhawks’ third-line center. General manager Stan Bowman sees it as a benefit.
“I think it’s just good to have guys who can play a multitude of positions, not necessarily even for this year but for their career and the organizational strength,” he said recently. “We have a lot of guys coming who have played center and wing (Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault). We like that ability. Within a year, you’re going to have injuries coming up. To not have to acquire a player and maybe just move a guy to center is a nice option to have.”
As for just adjusting to the NHL game again, Hayes said linemates Kane and Dave Bolland kept him from getting too anxious.
“They were helping me the whole way, saying, ‘Just relax, do what you have to do. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Just play the game,’” Hayes said.
Hayes has shown that more with each passing game.
“He had a nice goal, nice pass by Kaner, nice move,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Technically, he’s gotten better from his first couple of games. His awareness has been in place. He’s progressed each game.”