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updated: 3/20/2017 8:10 PM

Hayden scoring high grades with Chicago Blackhawks

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  • Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Roman Polak (46) and Chicago Blackhawks center John Hayden (40) vie for the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto on Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

    Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Roman Polak (46) and Chicago Blackhawks center John Hayden (40) vie for the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto on Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

  • Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, center, celebrates with left wing Richard Panik, left, and center John Hayden after scoring his goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, March 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 6-3.

    Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, center, celebrates with left wing Richard Panik, left, and center John Hayden after scoring his goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, March 19, 2017, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 6-3.

 
 

Life is all about taking advantage of opportunities.

For a young hockey player who may be on a short leash -- like the Chicago Blackhawks' John Hayden -- that means making the most of every shift, every period and every game.

Because if you don't, the coaches eventually will move on.

Well, in Hayden's case, he's not only answering the knock of opportunity, he's barreling through the door, the boards and into the glass as fast as his skates will take him.

"He's working his tail off," said linemate Jonathan Toews after the Hawks' 6-3 victory over Colorado on Sunday at the United Center.

As we noted after the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Hayden signed last week, this kid has a demeanor and a confidence about him that you don't see in most 22-year-old rookies. You never know if that is going to translate to the ice, but it clearly has in Hayden's first three games.

"You like his composure in games, his thought process, physicality," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Comes up with a lot of pucks, had some big, hard hits tonight (vs. the Avalanche). You notice him."

Hayden's start includes a goal, 2 assists and a whopping 15 hits. He scored at Toronto by stopping a pass from Toews with his left skate, shuffling it to his stick and burying it over the left shoulder of Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen.

It was the Hawks' only goal in regulation during a 2-1 overtime victory.

"It's fun to be on the ice when a young guy gets his first goal," Toews said. "It feeds into his confidence. Sometimes you get that first goal early on, it gives you some relief that you can play at this level."

Hayden's 2 assists came 17 seconds apart on goals by Toews and Richard Panik against Colorado. Hayden's net-front presence helped create both as he:

• Deflected a puck that Toews then redirected past goalie Jeremy Smith to cut the Avs' lead to 3-2.

• Dove and pushed the puck back to Panik, who buried the game-tying goal.

"We finally found our energy and our stride in the third," Toews said. "We made a nice play getting that puck back to Panik on that goal, so he's doing little things and he's getting better and better every game."

Those 2 goals were part of a 3-goal-in-34-seconds barrage bettered only two other times in Blackhawks history. They were the centerpiece of another amazing comeback by a team that has won 17 of its last 20.

"It was awesome," 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."

That leadership core also is helping make Hayden's transition to the NHL a smooth one. Asked what some of the best pointers have been and who gave them, Hayden drew a loud roar from reporters when he deadpanned: "How much time do you have? Seriously."

He then said: "I remember after one of the practices, Duncs (Duncan Keith) told me to just settle down and enjoy it. That helped me the next day. But, honestly, it's all of the guys here and it's been tremendous."

Almost unbelievably -- in addition to learning about the Hawks' system, his teammates and a new city -- Hayden still is trying to complete his course load at Yale.

"I'm actually on spring break," he said. "A little time off of school, but I'll start writing essays in a little bit."

If they're as good as the start to his NHL career, Hayden will ace those as well.

• Follow John on Twitter @johndietzdh

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