As the Chicago Blackhawks head into the 2023-24 season, they have a loaded pipeline of prospects. Where it gets difficult, is determining exactly where they are on their journey and how that plays into their ranking.
Instead of writing a longer 2000+ word piece, CHN has opted to write ten shorter pieces that lays out the reasoning for the spot in their respective ranking. Believe me, looking at the list it’s not a simple notion outside of #1, which is a slam dunk. Essentially, the considerations with rankings worked like this:
- Where is this current prospect in their readiness with the Blackhawks? A Lukas Reichel is much closer compared to a Gavin Hayes.
- How does the current prospect rank out in terms of their ceiling as opposed to other prospects on the list?
- How has the prospect performed within their respective league–and how does that league rank out against others?
CHN’s seventh ranked prospect in the Blackhawks system is Gavin Hayes.
A Nose for the Net
41 goals in the OHL is quite the accomplishment. But it’s not only caught the eye of the Blackhawks, but the rest of the hockey world is taking notice, too.
The first question from the OHL profile on the Flint Firebirds is if Hayes can hit the 50-mark without some of the names that helped him carry Flint last season. Hayes will now be going it alone, a first line winger who stood out in the Summer Showcase. He’s penciled in as a possibility on the World Juniors squad.
Why shouldn’t he be?
Hayes does the little things and is unafraid to dig the puck out in the corner or to sit and take the beating in front of the net or to score the pretty one.
Gavin Hayes gets himself in front of the Swedish defender and scores his first of the tournament for USA.
— Steven Ellis (@SEllisHockey) August 4, 2023
His skating style and even at times, his release reminds me of Brett Hull–the drop to a knee and bury one with the lightning fast release that a goalie has no chance to react to. He’s going to bang away at the puck in front as well, doing what he can to disrupt and create havoc. Tally up all the scoring he did last season, whether it was hat tricks or a pair of four-point games, it’s an impressive pick from the third round.
He’s in line with what general manager Kyle Davidson has been selecting in the draft and can be a great complement to the blazing speed that he’ll be flanking.
“Goal scoring is a really tough skill to come by,” Davidson said. “And he’s one of those guys that has a knack for finding the back of the net and that’s very valuable.”
Blackhawks Full-Time ETA: 2025-26
This comes with a caveat. The realistic side of things is that this is a big prove-it year for Hayes. The 41 goals came on a Flint team that had some serious talent down the middle. Those players are all on pro contracts now, and Hayes is going to be one of the more experienced players on the team. Putting up 40 again or getting to 50 seriously speeds things up. It reveals that the skill is not only the real deal, but something that isn’t overly reliant on those around him.
Hence the key. Of the forwards ranked so far on this list, Hayes is the exclusive that isn’t reliant on his speed to generate his game. While he has impressive top-end speed, it’s not the selling point to what he brings on the ice. Hayes will forecheck the devil out of opposing teams. He’ll dig the puck out of the boards and either take it himself for a chance or dish it to the aforementioned speed demon. All in the name of sending it the other way or generating another chance. But as mentioned earlier, he can score the highlight reel goals, too.
But where does he project out? I’ve written before he reminds me too of another long time Blackhawks favorite – Patrick Sharp. Sharp didn’t come into Chicago with a ton of fanfare, but once he got going, who better to score a big goal than Sharp? Hayes’ game oozes that kind of potential.
He’s already signed to his entry-level deal, inked back in April. The Blackhawks liked what they saw. If he hits that 50-goal mark with Flint, it’s now flirting with the chance that 2024-25 is a real shot at seeing him in Chicago. Yes, I believe he can be that good.
That’s not even considering what he can do on the power play.
He’s been off the radar for some time, hidden by some of the bigger names drafted in the higher rounds.
But if the tenacity and skill continue to show up on the scoresheet, he won’t be hidden for much longer.