Heading into Barrett Hayton’s draft year, scouts keeping tabs on the then-Soo Greyhounds standout described him in many ways. “Hardworking” was among the top descriptors, as were comments about his two-way play. But perhaps Hayton’s most impressive attribute was one he showcased off the ice. At the OHL’s 2018 awards ceremony, Hayton, boasting a near-90 percent average, accepted the Bobby Smith Trophy as the league’s scholastic player of the year.
That alone, of course, would be impressive enough, but it’s all the more admirable given Hayton wasn’t exactly taking the path of least resistance. Among his courses were university-level classes in math and science, including advanced functions and data management.
So, as the Coyotes prepare a move to Arizona State University’s campus – the NHL club will share a facility with the NCAA Div. I men’s program for the next three seasons – is Hayton considering hitting the books again? “I wouldn’t rule it out of the equation,” he said. “Right now, obviously, being so busy and being so focused, it’s something I don’t really see myself doing in the near future, but it’s something that’s good to have in the back of your head if you want to one day pursue that.”
Fair enough. And it makes sense Hayton isn’t yet ready to jump into what ASU might have to offer, given the 22-year-old pivot is currently on the fast track to a big-league education.
Consider this season, in which Hayton parlayed a four-game stint in the AHL into full-time NHL duty. He said that starting the campaign in the minors put a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and it was evident once he got the call to join the big club in late October that he had no intention of going anywhere. The Coyotes’ coaching staff made that clear, too, putting Hayton in a sink-or-swim position rather than slowly ushering him into the lineup.
Case in point: Hayton averaged 11:17 of ice time across 34 games in his first two NHL seasons but skated more than 15 minutes in his first NHL contest this season and eclipsed the 18-minute mark five times in his first 15 games. It no doubt helped Hayton’s cause that there was familiarity with Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny, an assistant on Canada’s World Junior Championship club that Hayton captained to gold in 2020. “I took a lot of pride in earning minutes, earning matchups, earning ice time in different situations throughout the game,” Hayton said. “It was something I was ready for. I always want to be that player who plays big minutes and is impactful on the game. It was something I really strived for, and I felt comfortable when I was in that situation.”
But while Hayton was getting opportunities to kill penalties and play key defensive minutes for the Coyotes, a role in which he felt he was excelling, he was critical of his offensive output. He mustered only two goals and six points in 26 games before being sidelined by a hand injury in January. It wasn’t up to his standards. “Coming through that second half, the end of February and March and the rest of the season, I really wanted to generate more offense, have a bigger impact offensively, be a bit more creative and dynamic,” he said. “That was a focus of mine in that last stretch. I felt that I was able to learn a lot there, get a good feel for what that takes.”
The numbers bear that out, as Hayton posted eight goals and 18 points in Arizona’s final 34 games. And though that might not seem an otherworldly total, only Phil Kessel, Clayton Keller, Shayne Gostisbehere and Nick Schmaltz contributed more to Arizona’s meager attack during that stretch. Hayton’s production provided a window into what he can mean to a Coyotes squad looking for a core group who can, at long last, lead the franchise to sustained success.
The opportunity to be such a player isn’t at all lost on Hayton, either, and he welcomes the responsibility. In fact, it’s something Hayton said he and others – he name-checks Keller and Schmaltz – take pride in, adding they’re hungry to prove the future is bright in the desert.
As for his own game? Hayton isn’t shy about what he wants to accomplish. “My development over the past couple years has progressed, progressed, progressed,” he said, “and personally, I want to reach my highest potential and get everything I can out of my game. That was reciprocated by the coaching staff. Everyone wants your trajectory to be as high as it can. They spoke on some identity stuff and all that in my game, stuff to dial in on in the off-season, and to be ready to come in next year and have a big impact.”