It’s not too often you find a third-line player who’s not working at his natural position make the NHL All-Star Game.
So mark down Kevin Hayes as a significant exception to the rule.
The Flyers’ 30-year-old forward, who is second on the team in overall scoring, was recently named to the mid-season classic on Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Fla. and deservedly so.
Although he’s coming off an injury-filled 2021-22 campaign and has been moved from center to left wing, Hayes has posted outstanding numbers.
The Dorchester, Massachusetts native leads the Flyers in assists (28) and, going into Tuesday night’s game against Los Angeles, had posted five goals in his last four games.
He’s played in 47 of 48 games and the only reason he missed that one game is because he was benched by coach John Tortorella for a game against the New York Rangers on Dec. 17.
That, plus unwelcome moves from a top-six forward rank and a slide over to wing, led many to believe the coach and player weren’t seeing eye-to-eye.
But the coach and player refute that notion.
“If you ask Kevin, it’s probably been a hard year for him,’’ Tortorella said before Tuesday morning’s pre-game skate at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J. “He’s lost some minutes, playing a different position. It’s all part of the process he’s going through – I think he’s handled himself well.’’
While focusing a bit more on defense, Hayes has picked things up on the offensive side of the puck as well.
“He’s worked hard to play away from the puck,’’ Tortorella said. “It’s been kind of a crazy year for him. I think he’s trying to do the things we’ve asked him to. He’s been much better on the power play (two goals with the man advantage in Sunday night’s loss to Winnipeg). Prior, I thought he was way too deliberate on the power play. I just think he’s changed his mindset there.’’
Hayes has said repeatedly there’s good communication between the two men.
“I have no bad blood with ‘Torts;’ I always say he’s the coach and I’m the player,’’ Hayes said. “I get paid to do things on the ice and he gets paid to make the decisions. My whole career, I’ve respected every coach’s decision.’’
Hayes acknowledges it’s been a challenging season, just as last year’s was.
“It’s been a little bit of a different year for me,’’ he said. “Signed here to play center and I’m playing wing. Trying to learn to the best of my ability, be the best wing I can be. We’ve all played this game so long you can play any position.’’
The door to Tortorella’s office is, as they say, always open.
“I’m playing wing and that doesn’t mean I have bad blood with him,’’ Hayes reiterated. “I’ve been in the league long enough where if I have a problem I can ask him about it. He explains himself.’’
Hayes doesn’t perceive himself as a career winger and doesn’t believe he’s fast enough to be one. But it’s something he’s willing to work on.
“I think overall it’s been a successful year, a career year for me,’’ he said. “It’s crazy, you’re having a career year but you’re not playing the position you always play.’’
>DeAngelo defense needs work
Although defenseman Tony DeAngelo has been contributing more on offense of late, his defensive work could use some improvement.
His minus-4 effort in the Winnipeg game dropped him to minus-15 for the season.
In a prior game, he committed four turnovers in just seven minutes of action and was benched for the rest of the game.
“I think Tony has made some great offensive plays,’’ Tortorella said. “He still needs work on defense. He’s trying. We continue to work with him. I don’t want to turn him into a defensive defenseman but we’re working to try to get him to understand as far as closing people out.
“Taking away time and space, that’s the key for Tony to get better at, because his legs are there, he can get there. It’s not spinning off. . .it’s closing things out. That’s the biggest thing we need to get improvement out of Tony.’’
Tortorella praised DeAngelo’s work on breakouts, puck movement and so forth.
“I don’t think you want to overcoach it,’’ the coach said. “But I don’t think we are. Those players, I just want it to be a two-way street, see some commitment to defense. When Tony decides to close out, he’s really good at it. He’ll knock people down. It’s just being more consistent doing it. There’s still some work to be done there.’’
Returning from offseason neck surgery, Joel Farabee has managed to play in all 48 games, posting decent numbers and steadily improving.
“I still want to see more in every part of his game,’’ Tortorella insisted. “I think that’s a good thing because I think there’s more there. But he’s improved. He’s done some of the things we’ve asked him.
“I really think for Joel, a big time for him will be the offseason. I want to see him get stronger – he’s still growing into his body. I have to remember that. But I think he’s improved. We’re just going to ask for more.’’
>Hart to start
Carter Hart was slated to start in goal vs. the Kings.