We Need To Talk More About Gavin Hayes' Strong Season

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We Need To Talk More About Blackhawks Prospect Gavin Hayes’ Strong Season

Chicago Blackhawks

When the Blackhawks drafted Gavin Hayes in the third round of the 2022 NHL Draft, his name felt like it was becoming a footnote. The pick used to select him was the second acquired from Montreal in the Kirby Dach trade, and everyone was focused on Frank Nazar at No. 13 overall.

Hayes was coming off a nice season for Flint in the OHL in which he scored 19 goals in 65 regular season games. He backed that up with 12 points in 19 playoff games. But people don’t usually stop everything they’re doing to celebrate the 66th overall pick in a draft.

Fast forward a year — pun intended. Hayes scored 41 goals in his post-draft junior season. Only eight players in the OHL scored more during the regular season than Hayes. That performance earned Hayes his entry-level contract, which he signed with the Blackhawks on Monday.

From a Blackhawks’ perspective, that number is something we need to be more excited about. When we consider the organization’s recent history of drafting CHL forwards, Hayes has been incredibly impressive.

If we go all the way back to the 2011 NHL Draft, the Blackhawks have a suspect collection of forwards they have drafted to varying degrees of success. I’m not going to beat the dead horse here reminding everyone that Stan Bowman should have lost his job a few years before he did because of his performance in the draft and develop department, but it is interesting to put Hayes’ season in some historical perspective looking at forwards the Blackhawks have drafted over the previous 11 years.

Between 2011 and 2021, the Blackhawks drafted eight forwards in the first three rounds of drafts out of the CHL. The two most recent — Kirby and Colton Dach — have had different paths in their first season after being drafted. Kirby came straight to Chicago; Colton scored 29 goals in 61 games for Kelowna in the WHL in his first post-draft season. Colton is still playing junior this season, but injuries have significantly impacted his production.

Here are the other six CHL forwards the Blackhawks drafted in the first three rounds and how they produced in their post-draft junior seasons. I included two others for notable purposes.

  • Mark McNeill was the 18th overall pick in 2011. After he was picked, McNeill went back to Prince Albert in the WHL for two more seasons. He scored 31 and 25 goals, respectively, in his two junior seasons after he was drafted.
  • Phillip Danault was the 26th overall pick in 2011. He played two more junior seasons after he was drafted and scored 18 and 23 goals in those post-draft campaigns.
  • Brandon Saad was the 43rd overall pick in 2011. He, too, went back to junior, spending one more season with Saginaw in the OHL. Saad scored 34 goals in his one post-draft season in juniors.
  • Garret Ross is one of only two forwards drafted by the Blackhawks since 2011 to reach the 40-goal mark in his post-draft junior season. He was the 139th overall pick (fifth round) in 2012. He was already 20 years old when the Blackhawks drafted him, so he was playing two years older than Hayes when he put up 44 goals and 90 points in 61 games for Saginaw in his post-draft season. Ross never made it to the NHL, but there were significant character concerns with the player (he was charged with distributing revenge porn in 2016 and was out of the organization that summer).
  • Ryan Hartman was the 30th overall pick in 2013. He returned to Plymouth in the OHL for one season after his draft and scored 25 goals in 52 games.
  • Graham Knott was the 54th overall pick in 2015. He spent two more seasons in the OHL, scoring 12 and 15 goals, respectively.
  • Alex DeBrincat slid to the 39th pick in 2016 because of his size. He went back to Erie and scored 65 goals in 63 games in his one post-draft junior season.
  • Philipp Kurashev was the 120th overall pick in the 2018 draft. He scored 29 goals in 59 games for Quebec in the QMJHL in his only post-draft season in junior. I’m including Kurashev because he is still viewed as a viable offensive player on the current Blackhawks’ roster. And his best junior season was 29 goals.

So, since 2011, only two forwards — Ross and DeBrincat — scored more than Hayes’ 41 goals in their post-draft junior seasons. And Ross was an older player when he did that, too. And we’ve got three strong, successful NHL names — Hartman, Saad and Danault — included on this list.

Maybe we’re sleeping too much on what Hayes brings to the table and should be talking about it more.

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab