Hayes gives Jets’ scoring chances off the rush a big boost

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The Winnipeg Jets have gone into a downward spiral defensively to close out the regular season and no longer control where they’ll end up in the Central Division standings.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/04/2019 (1233 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets have gone into a downward spiral defensively to close out the regular season and no longer control where they’ll end up in the Central Division standings.

After blowing multiple recent opportunities to lock down first place, they could finish third and lose home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs if the St. Louis Blues win their final game Saturday and the Jets find a way to lose to the Arizona Coyotes.

However, the news isn’t all bad. Trade-deadline acquisition Kevin Hayes has been producing relatively well with five goals and 12 points in 19 games, which is down from his pace with the Rangers. But it’s important to note that none of those points have come on the power play, so his even strength-production is slightly ahead of his output in New York.

Unfortunately, so far the addition of Hayes hasn’t had the desired impact on centre Bryan Little, as the shift down in responsibility has left him ice-cold with just a single goal and an assist in 19 games since the trade deadline. The Jets have to hope he can find is game before the playoffs begin.

Hayes was brought in to create offence. Aside from the point production, how is he playing? Is he fitting into the lineup and producing as expected, or just having short-term success?

Let’s break down what he’s doing in five-on-five compared to the average marks of other Winnipeg forwards.

Hannah Foslien / The Associated Press
Minnesota Wild defenseman Brad Hunt attempts to get the puck from Winnipeg Jets right wing Kevin Hayes.

Not usually a high-volume shooter, Hayes is keeping pace with the Jets’ average in high-danger scoring chances and scoring chances on net, and significantly ahead in overall shot attempts from the slot area. In fact, only Kyle Connor is attempting more shots from the slot at five-on-five than Hayes since the deadline, so his goal production has been well-earned.

Playmaking is where Hayes really shines, and his 1.61 completed slot passes every 20 minutes leads the Jets by a wide margin since he joined the group in late February. He’s among their better players at making plays off the rush, as well.

It comes as no great surprise that Hayes leads all Jets players in scoring chances created for teammates since he was acquired, narrowly edging out Mark Scheifele at just slightly above seven chances per 20 minutes of ice time.

Arguably, the most important aspect of having Hayes on the roster is the way he produces offence. Let’s look at his scoring-chance types to illustrate.

When I wrote about the possibility of the Jets adding Hayes at the deadline in mid-February, I focused on his ability to add attacks off the rush, an area where the Jets were sorely lacking despite being a premier cycle and forechecking team.

In my wildest estimates, I didn’t expect him to feast this heavily on rush chances, but he has doubled down on what he’s been good at over his career.

While with the Rangers, Hayes was producing 0.7 scoring chances off the rush per 20 minutes of ice time at even-strength, which is a highly respectable number and would have been the second-best mark among the Jets’ forward group aside from Nikolaj Ehlers. Since the trade, he’s more than doubled that, constantly creating controlled entries into the offensive zone and sneaking into the slot for shots.

Once the zone is gained and a cycle is established, Hayes is far less likely to shoot and prefers to lean on his playmaking ability to get his teammates scoring chances. I still think he’s eventually going to click with Patrik Laine and should result in some goals — the two players are simply too good at this to not find something together.

Hayes hasn’t produced much off the forecheck, but his line doesn’t really thrive on a strong forechecking element like other Jets producers do, so that’s to be expected.

What is a little surprising is that Hayes has been aggressive in crashing the net to get rebounds, something not many playmakers are willing to do. Hayes’ hulking six-foot-five frame gives him some leverage in that area of the game, and he’s smart to put it to good use.

Hayes also adds another factor that contributes to offensive gains more indirectly, one that is related to his absurd numbers off the rush. Earlier in the season I had mentioned several times that outside of Nikolaj Ehlers and Scheifele, the Jets’ forwards had been struggling to transition the puck up the ice this year. Since Hayes’ arrival, he’s completing the third-most transition plays on the team, which allows for more chances off the rush for him and his linemates.

It’s not a revelation to say that the Jets’ offence should be great heading into the playoffs, but the added element of having multiple lines that can attack off the rush makes the Jets far more difficult to defend against, and addresses some of the transition speed issues they struggled with against Vegas last season in the Western conference final. If the defensive coverage can wake up, the Jets can be a scary team.

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

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