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With captain dealt, Kevin Hayes embracing leadership role with Flyers

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Kevin Hayes, Philadelphia Flyers

With long-time Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux traded, Kevin Hayes has stepped to the plate and assumed more of a leadership role.

“I’m just trying to lead by example the best way I can, vocally and on the ice,” Hayes said after scoring the winning shootout goal in the Flyers’ stunning 4-3 victory over his former team, the New York Rangers, at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night. “I’ve been a young kid in this league, and I was lucky enough to have good leadership here in New York.”

He mentioned Marty St. Louis, Rick Nash, and Keith Yandle, veterans who helped him when he entered the league with the Blueshirts.

Paying it forward

Now Hayes, who turns 30 next month, is trying to pay it forward to the many young or inexperienced players on the Flyers’ roster, such as Noah Cates, Owen Tippett, Ronnie Attard, Cam York, Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, and Hayden Hodgson.

“You learn from those guys, and when you’re a kid, you don’t really realize it,” he said of the Rangers’ veterans in 2014-15, his rookie season. “When you’re a young kid, you’re just happy to be in the NHL. I’m sure they (the young Flyers) are happy that they’re playing in the NHL, but it’s a demanding job. You have to show up and be consistent, and that’s what I try to show them, and its nice to see the young guys playing well.”

Hayes has been the definition of consistency since returning from an injury: 15 points over 15 games. He is fully recovered from a groin infection, and playing with much more speed and pace than he did in his previous time with the Flyers earlier this season.

He centered a line with newcomer Tippett and James van Riemsdyk on Sunday. Hayes assisted on Tippett’s first goal with the Flyers and helped send him away on two breakaways.

“I didn’t know much about him. I played a few games against him when he was with Florida,” Hayes said. “He’s a big, strong kid who skates hard and can shoot the puck. I think he had two or three breakaways today, and that shows the kind of player he is. He finds open areas and creates good scoring chances. He’s fun to play with.

“Like I said, I didn’t know much about him, but its been a great surprise, honestly.”

‘No panic’

Hayes liked the composure the Flyers showed after the Rangers rallied to tie the game at 3-3 with 4:20 left in regulation. They killed a penalty, survived the OT, then won in the shootout thanks to Hayes and goalie Martin Jones.

The Flyers’ three goals were scored by Tippett, 23; Farabee, 22; and York, 21.

“There’s no panic in those young guys,” Hayes said. “They’re part of our team, they’re part of our future. They’re expected to play like that, and that’s the reason they’re up.”

After the Rangers scored two goals in 12 seconds to knot the score at 3-3 late in regulation, “it could have been easy to kind of just shut down and say, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ But we didn’t,” Hayes said. “We battled to the end. I thought we played great except for those four minutes in the third. It was a good step for our team.”

Frost improving

Frost, 22, continues to make strides and was in the middle of several scoring chances Sunday. He had four shots, three blocks, and won 4 of 7 faceoffs in 14:03 of ice time.

The former first-round selection is less tentative and could be on the verge of a scoring breakout. He has three goals and 10 points in 42 games.

Up next

The Philadelphia Flyers (22-36-11) play a home-and-home series with Columbus (32-32-5) on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, and Thursday in Ohio.

Columbus scored a 2-1 win in the teams’ first meeting this season. Gerry Mayhew scored the lone goal for Philly. Mayhew is now with Anaheim; overall he has eight goals in 32 games this season.

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