‘You notice him’: Rookie John Hayden making big first impression

After Blackhawks rookie John Hayden scored his first NHL goal in his second NHL game Saturday against the Maple Leafs, he was even better Sunday against the Avalanche. He had two assists, five hits and a plus-3 differential in a 6-3 victory.

‘‘Sometimes you get that first goal early on, it gives you some relief that you can play at this level,’’ said captain Jonathan Toews, who scored in his NHL debut in 2007 and ended up with a point in his first 10 games en route to being the runner-up for the Calder Trophy.

‘‘You believe in your skill and what you can do. System-wise, [Hayden’s] getting more and more comfortable with being in the right place and eventually trusting his own instincts.’’

While Hayden’s tying goal against the Leafs was an impressive snipe off a two-on-one pass from Toews, his net-front contribution in the victory against the Avalanche bodes even better for the Hawks — provided he can sustain it.

Blackhawks rookie forward John Hayden (40) works against Maple Leafs tough guy Roman Polak in front of the net during the Hawks' 2-1 overtime victory Saturday night in Toronto. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Battling in front of the net, Hayden assisted on the first two goals of the Hawks’ stunning five-goal third period.

With the Hawks trailing by two goals midway through the period, Hayden tipped a shot by Duncan Keith that Toews deflected past goalie Jeremy Smith to make it 3-2. Shortly after the ensuing faceoff, Hayden — again in front of the net — lunged to tip a rebound in the slot to Richard Panik for a goal that tied the score 17 seconds later.

A week earlier, Hayden was playing for No. 8 seed Yale against No. 1 seed Harvard in the East Coast Athletic Conference tournament. Now he’s spending his spring break in the middle of a red-hot Hawks run.

‘‘It was awesome,’’ the 6-3, 210-pound Hayden said. ‘‘I think it says a lot about this locker room. I haven’t been here long, but I can already tell that there’s amazing leadership and a culture to never give up.’’

It’s a small sample size, but in his first three games with the Hawks, Hayden has one goal, three points and a plus-4 differential. The Hawks have won all three games, and Hayden has yet to be on the ice for a goal against.

‘‘You like his composure in games, his thought process, physicality,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘He comes up with a lot of pucks. Had some big, hard hits [against the Avalanche]. You notice him.’’

Rookies have come and gone since the Hawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years in 2010, but a power forward who can get in front of the net, throw his weight around and contribute defensively seems to have a better chance of sticking around. Hayden already looks like a guy who will be given every chance to make it. Playing on a line with Toews is a pretty good head start.

‘‘[Toews] is arguably the best player in the world, and he works probably harder than anyone and really values the details in the game,’’ Hayden said. ‘‘It’s been nice learning from him, and hopefully I can soak in a lot more.’’

Hayden, 22, was a third-round draft pick by the Hawks in 2013, a pick acquired when they traded Michael Frolik to the Jets after winning the Cup in 2013. He still has classwork to finish at Yale, but he is acclimating well to a team in a much higher league.

‘‘Every day, every practice, every game, I’m transitioning a little better,’’ Hayden said. ‘‘It’s really the coaches and guys in this locker room that are helping to make it pretty seamless.’’

NOTE: The Hawks will honor former goalie Ed Belfour with ‘‘One More Shift’’ on Thursday against the Stars. Belfour won two Vezina Trophies and 201 games in eight seasons with the Hawks.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com


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