Kevin Hayes used to sport a Winnipeg Jets jersey as a kid.
Now the centre will get to pull on similar threads for real.
Winnipeg acquired the big centre from the New York Rangers for Brendan Lemieux, a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2022 ahead of Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
The 26-year-old Hayes, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, has 14 goals and 28 assists in 51 games this season.
Cousins with original Jets star Keith Tkachuk, Hayes used to cheer for Winnipeg with the rest of his family in the Boston area before the franchise relocated to Arizona in 1996.
“It’s obviously tough to leave New York, but I’m excited to join the Jets,” Hayes said on a conference call with reporters. “Everyone knows how good they are and the type of players they have.
“I’m excited to get going.”
Hayes has registered 216 points (87 goals, 129 assists) in 361 career NHL games. He’s added two goals and eight assists in 34 career playoff games. Selected 24th overall by Chicago out of Boston College in 2010, Hayes never signed with Blackhawks and instead inked a free-agent deal with New York in August 2014.
“Over the last couple years I’ve become a well-rounded player,” said the six-foot-five, 216-pound native of Dorchester, Mass. “When I first came into the league I was mainly all offence, but I’ve learned to play pretty well defensively.”
Hayes said he’s already heard from Jets captain Blake Wheeler, and is looking forward to meeting the rest of his new teammates on Tuesday.
It’s possible Hayes will line up in the middle on Winnipeg’s second line between Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers.
“I’m going to play with some good wingers who can score some goals,” Hayes said without making any assumptions. “I’m a pass-first type player and I’m excited to play with some goal scorers.”
Lemieux, 22, had nine goals and two assists in 44 games this season for Winnipeg. The Denver native added a goal in nine outings in 2017-18.
Winnipeg remained busy before the trade deadline with a five other deals. The Jets acquired centre Matt Hendricks from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a 2020 seventh-round pick; Par Lindholm from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nic Petan in a swap of forwards; Bogdan Kiselevich from the Florida Panthers for a seventh-rounder in 2021; Nathan Beaulieu from the Buffalo Sabres for a sixth-round pick and Alex Broadhurst from Columbus for future considerations.
The moves mark the second year in a row that Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has made a splash ahead of the deadline.
Winnipeg acquired centre Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues last February as the team loaded up for a playoff run that would end with a five-game defeat to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. Stastny signed with Vegas as a UFA over the summer.
“It’s a great feeling to feel wanted,” Hayes said. “It’s been rumoured for a little bit that this would be the place I’d end up at. I was actually hoping that it was the place.
“It’s nice that they gave up a lot for me. I’m just hoping I can come in and show them it was worth it.”
The conditional pick in Monday’s trade would see Winnipeg’s fourth-round selection in 2022 go to New York if the Jets with the Stanley Cup this spring.
“Everyone knows how good the Jets are,” Hayes said. “They have a serious chance to win the Cup. I’m just happy and proud they chose me.
“I think it’ll be a good fit.”