Playing on a powerhouse squad can be a blessing and a curse if it’s your draft year. The wins and experience are fantastic, but the spotlight is often elsewhere when your older teammates are NHL draft picks who are piling up the points. For Barrett Hayton, being surrounded by talent on the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds was nothing but positive for the 2018 draft prospect’s growth.
“It was very important,” Hayton said. “Having those older guys to learn from and bounce ideas off was huge for my development.”
As it was, Hayton had a pretty solid campaign. He was nearly a point-per-game player in the regular season and playoffs, though that was lost a little on a squad that boasted high-flyers like Morgan Frost (PHI) and Boris Katchouk (TB). Hayton finished sixth in team scoring, but his versatility was valued by coach Drew Bannister.
“Barrett is an outstanding individual, such a mature young man,” he said. “As a coach it was easy to find a place for him to play anywhere in my lineup and he would excel. whether it was at center or wing, putting him out for important faceoffs on the penalty-kill, playing the middle on the power play as a bumper or playing net-front, he seemed to excel and make players around him better. He has outstanding leadership abilities and a lot of his peers are drawn to him because of his work ethic.”
Originally from Peterborough, Hayton moved to Toronto for his minor midget year. He attended school at the famed Upper Canada College while playing for the Toronto Red Wings in the Greater Toronto League. That combination of academics and GTHL eligibility drove the decision and it turned out to be a good one, as he went on to be selected ninth overall by the Soo in the 2016 OHL draft.
A big fan of Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Hayton plays that same style of 200-foot hockey with a nice side helping of offense. He tried to take parts of his older Soo teammates’ games into consideration this season, with Frost being a particularly close friend to lean on.
And though the two players aren’t exactly the same, it is tempting to look at Frost’s breakout and see a lot of points in Hayton’s future. After all, Frost and Hayton posted near-identical numbers in their first two seasons with the Hounds, with Frost exploding for 112 points this season, making him the runner-up for league MVP.
“We saw what Morgan Frost did this year,” Bannister said. “I could see Barrett doing very similar things. He might not have the supporting cast that Morgan had, but when you look at when Barrett and Morgan really played well, it was in December when our guys were away at the world juniors and they took control of our hockey club. Barrett’s going to take a big step next year.”
Bannister won’t be there to see it; he was recently named coach of the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. Some of the older talents up front, such as Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh (TB) and Tim Gettinger (NYR), will also be joining the pro ranks, so the Soo will look quite different. But with Frost, Hayton, star goalie Matthew Villalta (LA) and possibly defenseman Rasmus Sandin (2018) returning, the Hounds will be barking loudly again.
“We have a lot of key guys moving on, but I feel we still have a very strong core,” Hayton said. “Next year will be exciting. I’m looking forward to taking a very large role.”
This summer, Hayton will work on getting bigger, faster and stronger. He’s working on his explosiveness and believes that is the key to taking things to another level. Based on his path and the organization he’s with, there’s no reason to doubt he’ll get there.