This time, the brothers from Boston came back to the Windy City for the Hawks' summer camp feeling like seasoned veterans among the many draft picks and other free agents invited to participate. Not only was it their second prospects camp, but both Kevin and Jimmy have developed quite a bit in the last year -- physically and in their skills.
"Last year I was a lot more nervous," said Kevin, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound center who was Chicago's top pick (No. 24) in the 2010 Entry Draft. "I was their first-round guy. I felt like I had to do a lot of good things, and I was pretty nervous on the ice. I wanted to make sure I showed them why they picked me. This year, I came in with my brother again and was more relaxed. I felt a lot more comfortable."
It was much the same for Jimmy Hayes, who's older than 19-year old Kevin by a couple of years and opted to sign with the Blackhawks last winter after completing his junior season at BC. Jimmy was originally selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round (No. 60) of the 2008 Entry Draft and then traded to Chicago last summer on the same weekend the Hawks took Kevin.
That meant last year's prospects camp was new for him. A year later, he looked more comfortable in his surroundings -- not to mention physically bigger and stronger.
"You come in and you want to be competitive," Jimmy said of his approach to prospects camp. "You want to show off your talents. Every year you want to show everybody you've improved. The kind of attitude I have is just showing I have improved my game and hopefully can get it to another level."
He did that already at BC, where he helped the Eagles win the 2010 national championship before scoring 21 goals and 33 points in 39 games last season -- while showing Kevin, a freshman, the ropes of college hockey and life.
"I was so thankful for him to be there (at BC) to show me a great way to do things," Kevin said of his brother. "He's a great leader. Everything he says … I did exactly as he said and it helped me out a ton. He's just a physical specimen. He's huge. He kills everyone in the weight room. He's in the weight room every day and just wants to get better every day."
The off-ice work that both of them put in was readily apparent during this camp. The official camp roster had Jimmy listed at 6-5 and 210 pounds but he told the media he weighed 233 -- which was three pounds heavier than his playing weight.
It wasn't bad weight gain, either. Jimmy is solidly built and his work ethic with the weights appears to be rubbing off on his younger brother; Kevin's size and skating as a center jump out, not to mention his hard, heavy wrist shot.
There were only two scrimmages held at this year's camp, as the Hawks tried to turn it into more of a developmental focus, but the Hayes brothers performed well. In the first scrimmage, Kevin picked up an assist while Jimmy scored a goal. In the second, both were on the ice a lot in the second half of the third period trying to tie the game with their team trailing by two. Though they weren't able to score a goal, their line put a good amount of heat on goalie Cal Heeter until the final buzzer.
Afterward, both felt like it was another productive camp after raising more than a few eyebrows a year ago.
"Compared to last year, I feel like I'm a lot stronger and faster," Kevin said. "I came right from high school last year, which was a big jump. Playing a year in college helped me out a ton. Last year I was kind of a little guy out here. This year I felt totally fine with everyone and I was one of the bigger guys out there, so it went pretty smooth."
After scoring 4 goals and 14 points for BC as a freshman, Kevin is looking forward to an increased role as a sophomore. Meanwhile, Jimmy will likely start his professional career with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League after getting into seven games there late last season.
"I've got to improve in every area of my game, and that's what I've got the rest of summer for," he said. "This was a good starting point. It just shows you that at the next level, it keeps getting better and better and you've got to fine tune every aspect of your game. These guys are all great players. I'm an older guy this year, but it's still great seeing the talent level here. All these kids can play. It's a great learning experience."
Competing against NHL players at the Hawks' fall training camp could also be an eye-opener. There is little, if any, room on the Hawks' NHL roster for prospects after Chicago signed five veteran free agents on July 1, but there will be room for youngsters to learn from those vets in camp. For Jimmy Hayes, that could be crucial to his development after foregoing his final season of college eligibility to make the jump to the pros.
"I set goals at the beginning of the year, I achieved most of the goals I wanted to get to, and it came down to talking with my family and coaches," he said of opting to turn pro. "We decided it was time for me to move on and it was the best thing for my career to turn pro. That's what I wanted to do. It was a big decision and I think I made the right one."
Time will tell if it was, but the way things are going now there's a decent chance that both Hayes brothers will wear the Hawks sweater as NHL teammates in the not-too-distant future -- which really would be a dream fulfilled for a self-described "hockey family."
"We played (on the same line) a little bit at college and it was unbelievable," Kevin said. "Then you come in here and get to play with each other again and we were roommates here. It was unbelievable. It's a dream come true. A lot of guys dream about playing with their brother for a long time and for me and him it's come true so far. Hopefully we can keep it going."