GREENBURGH, N.Y. — It could have gone either way for Kevin Hayes this season.
The Rangers center could have continued to struggle, continued to not quite make the adjustments in his game and commitment needed to take his game to the next level. Or he could do what he’s doing now — totaling 10 points in 11 games, which makes him the team’s second-most-productive player behind J.T. Miller.
“Some guys figure it out,” coach Alain Vigneault said of Hayes after Friday’s practice. “I can name you a list of five pages of guys that didn’t figure it out. We give them all the same information. Some guys process it in certain ways and get it done. And some guys don’t.”
Hayes, 24, is looking like a player transformed. His four goals and six assists are nearly double the two goals and four assists he had at this time last season. The Rangers’ third line of Hayes, Miller and Michael Grabner has 18 points on eight goals and 10 assists.
“All of them are playing so well, but I am going to say that Hayes is taking his game to another level this year,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “I think he was really determined coming back here with a strong start. He worked really hard, he’s in great shape and it’s huge for us to have this start from that line, but especially from him. He reminds me a little bit of [Jaromir] Jagr, how he uses his body holding on to pucks and almost standing still making plays.”
Hayes had 17 goals and 28 assists in 2014-15 and 14 goals and 22 assists last season. Rangers rookie Jimmy Vesey, who worked out and skated with Hayes in Boston during the summer, said Hayes headed into the offseason set on making people forget his sophomore slump.
“I think he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in,” Vesey said. “It’s really paying dividends on the ice for him. I know how hard he worked this summer. I think he was a little motivated by not having the year he wanted to have last year. He kind of went into the summer with a little bit of motivation and a chip on his shoulder to get back to where he wants to be.”
After recording a goal and two assists in a 5-3 win over the Oilers on Thursday night, Hayes said he has a different feeling this season.
“It’s all about confidence,’’ he said. “It’s nice to be relied on. It’s a lot different from last year. But that was my mentality over the summer and coming to camp — to make it different. It’s worked so far.”
Notes & quotes: Saturday night’s game will be the first time Vesey has played an NHL game in Boston. The former Harvard star said he expects to have about 70 friends and family members at the game . . . Antti Raanta will start for the Rangers, with Lundqvist playing against Winnipeg at home Sunday in the second game of a back-to-back.