There are a few things that stick out about the Flint Firebirds’ first round pick, Gavin Hayes.
First, there’s his high-level skill.
“We view him as a bit of a rarity,” said Firebirds GM Barclay Branch. “He’s a big bodied kid that plays with a high degree of skill. He’s got different elements in his arsenal and they’re rare skills to have on their own and they’re rare skills to have when you put them together. He’s what you’d say is a real elite blend of size and skill.”
Hayes was the Firebirds’ 16th overall choice at the 2020 OHL Priority Selection, having led the High Performance Hockey League in both goals (16) and points (33) in 21 games with the Detroit Compuware U15 AAA program over the 2019-20 season.
“I feel like I’m a power forward. I’m 6’2 but I feel like I need to get a little more meat on me,” said Hayes from his home in Westland, Mich. “I’m a playmaker and I can score goals too but I love to make players around me better on the ice.”
That last point is something Branch took notice of awhile ago, too.
“Every time Gavin is on the ice, the puck would be in the offensive zone and good things were happening. That’s another thing that really drew us to Gavin,” Branch continued. “He makes good things happen and he does it throughout the course of the game with his elite hockey sense, mind for the game and physical elements as well in his size and skill level.”
#OHL Futures Watch 👀:
He loves Nathan MacKinnon, looks forward to matchups against brother @hayesavery92 and listens to the same three songs before every game. Get to know @FlintFirebirds first round #OHLDraft pick Gavin Hayes (@gavinhayes92) as he chats with @sarahjeanmaher 🎥 pic.twitter.com/z4E5hIlrWk
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) April 26, 2021
Following a historical season that saw the Firebirds set new club records in wins (40) and points (82), the 16-year-old forward is confident the club is a good fit.
“They obviously have really good coaches and the players are super good. I know Brennan Othmann and Ty Dellandrea. Those two are really, really good,” he said. “I saw it was a historical year for them. Hopefully I can bring my play and put up some points, goals and help strive them to win.”
When it comes to making an immediate impression, Hayes’ older brother Avery, a forward for the Hamilton Bulldogs with two seasons under his belt, is confident in his ability to settle in quickly.
“I’ve given him tips on how the game is different, what life around the locker room and around the guys is like and just what life is like as a rookie,” Avery said. “But other than that, he’ll be fine. He just has to go through it himself and learn most of it and I know he’ll do well.”
According to Hayes, much of that confidence stems from his standout minor midget season.
“It was fun. All the guys I was playing with, we always hung outside of hockey, and the coaches made it really fun to go to the rink. They put me in a good mood, I just loved being at the rink last year,” he said of his minor midget year in Detroit. “Seeing those numbers makes you way more confident.”
His on-ice talent isn’t the only thing that drew Branch to Hayes.
“One thing I’ve seen with Gavin is that not only is he a high-level performer on the ice, he’s a high-level performer in the classroom as well. And that to us is extremely important,” Branch said of Hayes, who was named Academic Player of the Month for November with grades of 88%, 84% and 83% at SOAR Academic Institute. “It all fits into the criteria of what we look for in a player when we draft them, and Gavin is certainly a shining example of that.”
While Hayes hasn’t been able to consistently get on the ice with his teammates, Branch has been able to get to know the up and coming prospect over the course of the year. Another thing that has continuously stood out is his radiant positivity – something that has gone a long way with Branch given the uncertainties of the past 13 months.
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) July 10, 2020
“He’s a very, very positive kid and when you’re around him you definitely get that feeling through his personality. He’s always smiling and that tells you a lot about Gavin as a person,” he said. “He’s a multi-faceted young man who is a high achiever at numerous levels. I can’t say enough about Gavin and I, like the rest of the hockey world, am looking forward to seeing him back in action.”
Keeping hockey-ready ahead of the 2021-22 OHL season, Hayes has been skating with Kenny Brandt as well as former OHLer and NHLer, Chad LaRose. He has been training at First Line Performance building his strength and, as next season approaches, he’ll focus more on conditioning.
Coming off his impressive season with the Compuware, getting to carry over his skills to the OHL ranks in front of family and friends only an hour away from his hometown is a nice bonus. He’s no stranger to the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center, having attended Firebirds games in the past, mostly when his brother Avery and the Bulldogs came to town.
Now, getting to face off against his brother is among the aspects of being an OHL skater he looks forward to most.
“I always go to his games and it’s cool watching him play there, I can’t wait to step on the ice and play him,” he said.
For Avery, the feeling is mutual.
“I’ve never gotten to play against him growing up but I’ve watched his games, and we’ve practiced together and worked out together growing up. It’ll be a really cool feeling to finally play against him and have my parents and my younger brothers watch.”