The Arizona Coyotes have a truly talented prospect on their hands and, for once, we’re not talking about defenceman Victor Soderstrom.
With all the hype and intrigue that is surrounding the young Swedish blueliner, one prospect selected even higher in their draft year has seemingly fallen to the back of the minds of many.
That player is 19-year-old forward Barrett Hayton, who is expected to compete for a roster spot in training camp this year.
When the Coyotes selected Hayton with the 5th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, many fans were shocked that the club opted to pass on Filip Zadina.
But in the year since that surprise move, it is clear that Hayton has great potential and it was noticeable very early on.
Hayton impressed in his first training camp with the Coyotes last year and was even named to the team’s roster at the start of the 2018/19 season, with injuries to the likes of Alex Galchenyuk helping to free up space for the Kitchener, Ontario native.
The young Canadian centre did not make an appearance for the club, however, and found himself sent back to the OHL to play another season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
After registering just 60 points (21 goals, 39 assists) in 63 regular season games during his draft year, Hayton turned things up a notch upon his return to Canada.
Hayton earned an impressive 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) in just 39 regular season games, being handed the coveted captain’s ‘C’ and adding a further 16 points (six goals, ten assists) in 11 playoff games.
The 6-foot-1, 190lbs prospect’s performances for the Greyhounds saw him make five appearances, earning four assists, for his country during the World Junior Championships and it is clear that general manager John Chayka has once again made a move that will benefit the team in the long-run.
But, with Hayton now expected to push for a place on Rick Tocchet’s roster, the question as to where he fits in the line-up must be asked.
Tocchet has spoken recently of his preference for ‘pairs’ of players being kept together, with Michael Grabner and Brad Richardson forming a strong partnership in the same way Nick Schmaltz and Clayton Keller were building good chemistry before the former’s injury.
Hayton, traditionally a centre, may find it difficult to remain in that position on the Coyotes roster, particularly with Tocchet moving towards loading up on players capable of playing down the middle.
The future of the Coyotes’ top offensive prospect likely lies on the wing, with a number of experienced players capable of filling all four spots down the middle next season.
If Hayton is moved out to the wing, the potentially partnering him alongside a veteran centre such as Carl Soderberg or even Christian Dvorak, could help him settle into the line-up.
He will likely need to have a fairly sheltered role initially, putting him in the offensive zone for the majority of his starts to help give him a running start at this level.
Then there is the question of which player would Hayton likely force out of the line-up to stick around?
A player such as Christian Fischer may be the odd-man-out by the time the Arizona Coyotes need to set their line-up, with Lawson Crouse and Vinnie Hinostroza performing to a higher standard last season.
With Fischer still only 22 years old himself, it would be a difficult decision to push him out of the line-up when he could still develop further.
But if the Coyotes are adamant about keeping Hayton this time around, he seems to be the most logical choice.
If Hayton is unable to stick around, the only place he can play next season is with the Greyhounds in the OHL - something that may not benefit him much more, considering how well he performed this past season.
It would be preferable for the Coyotes to have the young Canadian step up this season, playing a role as a bottom six forward in the opening weeks of the 2019/20 campaign, having time to adjust to the pace of the NHL and find his way within the team.
With Tocchet willing to move players fairly flexibly around the line-up, there’s no reason why Hayton couldn’t earn minutes on the second line at times this season, especially if he continues his impressive form that all started in training camp last season.