Three weekends ago, Yale men’s hockey captain John Hayden ’17 fired home his 50th career goal in the second period of the Elis’ season-ending 4–3 defeat to Harvard. Seven days later, he scored his next goal — this time, for the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks have been the NHL’s premiere franchise for the past decade, hoisting three of the past seven Stanley Cup Championships. Led by superstars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, Chicago’s 103-point total puts it eight points ahead of its nearest competitors as it looks to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and make another Stanley Cup run.
The Blackhawks drafted Hayden with the 74th pick in the third round of the 2013 NHL draft from the U.S. Junior National Team, four months before he made his Yale debut. In the four years since, Hayden has become an integral cog in the Bulldog attack. This season, he led the team with 21 goals and also fired more than twice as many shots on target than any other Yale skater. He also enjoyed tremendous success on the power play this year, netting 12 of his finishes on the player-advantage, good for fifth in the NCAA. His tally of 50 career goals ranks 13th in Yale’s history.
“As a leader [Hayden] was fantastic,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “He was one of our most talented players, yet John was also our hardest-working, best-conditioned athlete. He was prepared to compete at his highest level every day in practice, he put the team’s interests above his own and he produced on the ice at a highly consistent level.”
Hayden signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Blackhawks the day after Yale’s season ended. He passed on an NHL contract at the conclusion of last season so he could return to Yale for his senior campaign. Had the forward decided not to sign with Chicago before the end of June, he would have had a chance to test the market as a free agent, but the opportunity to sign with the Stanley Cup favorites proved too enticing to pass up.
Chicago’s stretch of success and the expensive, long-term contracts given to its cadre of stars has bumped the Blackhawks up against the salary cap, increasing the importance of identifying and developing prospects like Hayden on cheaper contracts into established NHLers. At 6-foot-3 and 223 pounds, Hayden brings both size and physicality, a valuable asset to a Chicago lineup that is the second-lightest and third-shortest in the league. Through eight games, Hayden already has 33 hits, by far the most hits per game on the team, and is clearly taking on a power forward role. With his power-play prowess and ability to be a net-front presence down low, Hayden adds another dimension to a skilled and speedy Blackhawk attack.
“Looking forward to seeing how he handles it up here and how he fits in,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He gives us some size and aggressiveness. He’s a candidate to play, and we’ll see.”
In his eight games, Hayden has also notched three points on one goal and two assists. His debut tally came in his second career game, the game-tying goal in an eventual Chicago overtime triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hayden has played in a couple of spots in the lineup, but has spent the majority of his big league minutes on the first line alongside captain Toews and Richard Panik.
“I think he’s had a pretty seamless transition … his Blackhawks teammates have been great,” Yale teammate Dan O’Keefe ’17 said. “They have a strong nucleus that is welcoming of new guys … that John can lean on for guidance and can use to learn from to better acclimate to the league … He has a great family that has been an awesome support unit … [and] he has tremendous roommates who have flown out to see his games to cheer him on and make sure the big boys aren’t picking on him too much.”
The senior will graduate with the class of 2017 in May after arranging his senior year schedule to accommodate his intention to join the NHL.
Hayden is the third former Yale skater to make a NHL appearance this season, joining forward Kenny Agostino ’14 of the St. Louis Blues and defender Rob O’Gara ’16 of the Boston Bruins.