By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Western Hockey League season is young yet, but Manraj Hayer already has done a little of everything for the Everett Silvertips.
He’s centering one of Everett’s top lines. He’s a fixture on both the power play and penalty kill. He’s provided energy with his skating and hustle. And he’s produced offensively.
This is the Manny Hayer the Tips have been waiting for.
It’s been a rocky road reaching this point, but Hayer is finally playing the way Tips hoped he would from the beginning.
“There have been ups and downs throughout my career,” Hayer said. “But I think I’m finally playing the way I know how to play, showing the coaches and fans that this is the way I know how to play.”
Hayer has arguably been Everett’s best forward through the first five games. The 19-year-old from Vancouver, B.C., is tied for the team lead in scoring with five points (two goals, three assists), despite missing the opener. His speed and work ethic cause him to play bigger than his 5-foot-10 frame suggests.
It’s no coincidence that the Tips were two different teams in their first two games. Hayer sat out the opener, finishing up a suspension for a checking-from-behind double-minor penalty that carried over from last season’s playoffs, and the Tips were lethargic in a 6-0 loss to Prince George. Everett was much better in a 7-6 shootout loss to the Cougars the next night, and Hayer’s presence was a big reason for that.
“He’s been real good for us,” Everett coach Mark Ferner said. “During training camp you could tell he had a good summer. He worked hard and came to camp in real good shape.
“We’re thrilled with the way he’s been playing and the way he’s conducted himself, not only on the ice but off the ice.”
For Hayer, this was the type of impact that was predicted from the first day he donned a jersey with the Tips.
Hayer arrived in Everett in August of 2008 to zero fanfare. He was a 15-year-old invitee who had been passed over in the bantam draft, his big offensive numbers dismissed as a product of playing on the same line as first-overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. However, from his first scrimmage it was apparent Hayer was something special, and he was added to Everett’s 50-player protected list in short order. The following year Hayer was even more impressive during training camp and appeared certain to make Everett’s roster as a 16-year-old. However, his family decided he was better off spending a year playing junior A. So when Hayer joined the team for good as a 17-year-old, big things were expected.
But fate interfered. Hayer had a start-and-stop rookie season as he struggled to adjust to the WHL, and he also got caught in the malaise that affected the entire team as the Tips underachieved. Then last season he arrived at training camp in great shape and seemed poised for a breakout, only to suffer a freak broken leg in a collision with teammate Jesse Mychan during the third day of training camp. The broken leg kept Hayer out four months, then shortly after he returned he suffered a concussion that kept him out another month. The injuries limited Hayer to 18 games.
“(Suffering the broken leg) was heartbreaking, to say the least,” Hayer said. “I worked hard during the summer to get in shape, and to have that happen in training camp — not even an exhibition game or a real game — that was a real blow. But I think I’ve matured from that and taken it as a positive.”
Hayer went back to work in the offseason and again came to camp in great shape. Now he’s starting to fulfill the potential he displayed as a youngster.
“I think things are just going my way,” Hayer said about his quick start. “I’m just going out there and working hard every day. Pucks are going in and I’m getting points, but I think I’m playing with two good linemates in Josh Winquist and Tyler Sandhu and they’re helping me out.”
Ferner is quick to point out that Hayer is the type of player who would be valuable regardless of whether he’s getting points. Hayer is a responsible player who plays both ends of the ice.
“You know what you’re going to get from him every time he steps on the ice,” Ferner said. “He plays real hard, he’s a great skater and he’s a real competitive guy. He’s just everything you want in an older player.
“We trust him. Whatever the situation, we know he’s going to do the right thing.”
And while Hayer has experienced some personal success so far this season, his priority is team success.
“I just want to have a winning season this year,” Hayer said about his goals. “That would be great. My two years in the league we’ve had losing seasons. For me it’s just important to help the team out and get on the winning track this year.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.