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Will Barrett Hayton take the next step for the Coyotes?

The Coyotes’ center depth should see Hayton play a bigger role.

Montreal Canadiens v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

Barrett Hayton is viewed as one of the top two prospects within the Arizona Coyotes organization, but will he take the next step in his development this year?

Hayton was a surprise selection with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 Draft, with many expecting the Coyotes to land Filip Zadina after he fell from his expected third-place ranking.

Then-general manager John Chayka clearly saw something in the young Canadian center, who has grown well over the past two seasons and looks to be close to solidifying his place as an NHL forward in 2021.

During the 2019/20 season, the Coyotes determined that another season in the OHL would not further Hayton’s development enough to send him back to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Hayton outscored his draft year’s points total after being selected by the Coyotes, doing so in 24 fewer games, which was enough to convince the franchise to keep him around with the NHL roster.

During his rookie season in the NHL, Hayton featured in 20 total games, registering a goal (which happened to be a game-winner) and three assists while predominantly playing a bottom-line role with an average of 11:09 while on the ice.

He had a heavily sheltered role, with 59.4% of his starts coming in the offensive zone, but he struggled to maintain much possession with a 46.8% Corsi rating when all was said and done.

He spent the majority of the Covid-shortened season in the press box until he was given a conditioning stint with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliates, the Tucson Roadrunners.

There, he showed that he is further along in his development, registering a goal and four assists in his five-game spell in the minors and looking extremely comfortable at that level.

The gold medal-winning captain for Team Canada at the World Junior’s last year will now be looking to take his development further, which started with his attempts to play high-level hockey in Finland.

He joined Ilves in the SM-Liiga, the top tier of hockey in the country, and featured eight times for the club - with four assists.

His time in Finland was cut short due to the league shutting down operations while the country dealt with increasing Coronavirus cases, meaning that Hayton was unable to play as much as he would have liked before returning to North America.

This should not hamper his attempts to become a regular feature for the NHL roster, especially considering the drastic changes made the to Coyotes’ center depth during the off-season.

Derek Stepan’s recent trade to the Ottawa Senators came off the back of free-agent departures in Carl Soderberg and Brad Richardson, with the three outgoing players replaced by Derick Brassard and Johan Larsson.

With the team’s depth changing, leaving a spot on the third line potentially available, it could mean that Hayton has a better chance at earning more minutes under head coach Rick Tocchet.

If Hayton can take full advantage of the opportunity before him, he could progress his own career sooner while providing the team with a center that projects to be a decent offensive producer at the NHL level.

Hayton has not yet joined Coyotes training camp, and it’s unclear when he will be able to, but if he can be involved before the opening game against the San Jose Sharks next week, it will put him in a stronger position to kick-start his second season in the NHL.