Coyotes taking time with prized 2018 draft pick Hayton
There is not much of an argument that when a player develops and grows between age levels, the challenges are as formidable as success becomes rewarding.
Not only do players have to navigate through phases of physical size and stages of maturity, but the cycle seems permanently punctuated with unknown obstacles. While the process of transitioning between levels becomes demanding, throw in physical roadblocks and the quest to reach potential becomes equally encompassing.
That seems to be the recent journey taken by center Barrett Hayton, the Arizona Coyotes’ first-round draft pick (fifth overall) in June and a player with a wealth of talent and potential.
Hayton survived training camp this fall and began the current season at the NHL level. Yet, less than one week into the 2018-19 campaign, the 18-year-old Hayton was returned to the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. As a testament to education at the NHL level and leadership quality, Hayton was named captain of the Greyhounds.
The experience of spending nearly a month at the NHL level served as an important learning curve in Hayton’s quest to transition between competitive and age levels. Turning 19 in January, Hayton’s path as the Coyotes’ top draft pic included set-backs due to injuries.
Though his position in the Coyotes’ lineup is likely a few seasons away, Hayton laid the foundation for improvement and the groundwork for development.
“Growing up, you face many different things,” Hayton said. “Whether it’s injuries, and just challenges throughout the year, you have to be prepared for anything. Facing those challenges is a big thing in anyone’s development. It’s getting through those challenges that’s important, learning from them and growing.”
Like most dealing with high expectations, Hayton’s success at the NHL level depends on his incentive and ability to grasp instruction. That can be said for any player, but when that player is a first-round pick, the anticipation tends to be higher. At the same time, development of some players can be measured in educational development and others calculated based upon production.
When the Coyotes elevated Clayton Keller to the NHL roster at the start of last season, the glass was the proverbial half-empty, half-full. Also a first round selection, Keller was chosen as the seventh overall pick in the 2016 draft, but his ability to forge solid numbers (23 goals and 67 points last season) was the “X” factor.
Immediately, coach Rich Tocchet placed Keller at left wing, and by season’s end, his line with Derek Stepan at center and Richard Panik on the left side emerged as one of the most productive units in the NHL.
Now, Hayton has the same opportunity to learn from filling a valuable period at the NHL level.
“After spending time here, (Hayton) knows what it takes to play at this level,” Tocchet said. “He’s a smart player and plays well in the corners. He’ll take that back with him to juniors and improve on all aspects. That includes play on the ice but also how to handle himself off the ice, like land-based training, proper rest and nutrition.”
Leaving gaps in the growth and playing status could also influence development. Navigating through the competitive levels, Hayton missed a few seasons in minor hockey but says, “you have to learn to find your areas.”
Overcoming injuries and gaps in his advance, Hayton is now on a course to fulfill the Coyotes’ expectation. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, his physical development lends ideally to a physical game that can dominate in the corners and win the small battles necessary to propel an offense.
“When you’re not as a big as others, you have to have the ability to think the game at a higher level,” he said. “At training camp, I wanted to show what I bring to the table. I have that confidence to do that and confidence in my ability.”
Photo/Terry Wilson/OHL Images
— Mark Brown
(Nov. 21, 2018)