The New York Rangers are on the verge of trading second-line center Kevin Hayes to the Winnipeg Jets on NHL trade deadline day. In return, the Rangers will receive a 2019 first-round draft pick and 22-year-old winger Brendan Lemieux.
It is the second notable deal pulled off by the Rangers over the past three days after they sent fan-favorite Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. Zuccarello scored on his debut in Dallas on Sunday but suffered a broken arm that could hold him out for the remainder of the regular season.
Like Zuccarello, Hayes is set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer. At 26 years old and as one of the Rangers’ best offensive talents, the Massachusetts native was more of a fit for management’s vision of a youthful rebuild. However, Hayes’ expected new contract this summer likely would have been seen as too rich a price for the Rangers.
With 14 goals and 28 assists this season (42 points), Hayes is on pace to shatter his former career-high mark of 49 points two seasons ago, which made him a prime power forward trade target for plenty of contenders as the trade deadline approached.
Now with the Jets, Hayes will likely slot into either the second or third line where he will be able to provide a boost to wingers like Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Brandon Tanev. While Hayes isn’t the fastest or best skater, his power allows him to bully his way toward the net and open up space for his linemates, something the Jets are in desperate need of as their offense has fallen on hard times as of late ahead of the stretch run this season.
Dealing Hayes allows the Rangers to pick up another future asset to fuel the youthful rebuild. Adding Winnipeg’s first-round pick provides the Rangers with a second secure selection in the top-31 this summer. New York could have as many as four first-round picks this year if the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup (from the Ryan McDonagh trade) and the Stars advance to the Western Conference Final (from the Zuccarello trade).
If the Jets win the Stanley Cup this season, the Rangers also get a fourth-round pick in 2022.
While the last-name of Lemieux offers plenty of promise when looking at young NHL players, the newest Rangers doesn’t have nearly as high a ceiling. In 44 games this season, the left winger has recorded nine goals and two assists. He’s projected to be a lower-line forward the more he matures in the NHL.