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Hayton hoping his versatility will lead to early success for Coyotes

Arizona Coyotes 2018 first-round draft pick Barrett Hayton had one goal and one assist during Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Vegas Knights during the Anaheim Rookie Faceoff at Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena. (Photo by Grayson Schmidt/Cronkite News)

IRVINE, Calif. – Just under a year ago, Barrett Hayton found himself in a familiar place, though it may not have been exactly where he wanted to be.

After only two games on the NHL roster, the Arizona Coyotes’ 2018 first-round draft pick (number five overall) was headed back to play junior hockey for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Familiar, because it was the team Hayton was playing for when he was drafted. That send-down stayed with Hayton, 19, who, despite injury, still had 26 goals in only 39 games and captained the Greyhounds to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) playoffs.

“You don’t want to go back to juniors with a junior mentality,” Hayton said following a team workout Monday. “You want to take what you learn from pro and move it into your junior game.”

And it’s that pro mentality that gave the Peterborough, Ontario, native a strong appearance at the Anaheim Rookie Faceoff with a goal and an assist in the two games he played. The four-day tournament – technically held at Great Park Ice and FivePoint Arena in Irvine – pitted prospects from six Western Conference teams (Arizona, Vegas, Colorado, L.A., San Jose and Anaheim) against each other. After a 5-4 loss to San Jose Saturday, Arizona finished the tournament with a 3-2 win against Vegas and a shutout win against Colorado.

“Coming into this weekend, I just wanted to stick by my game,” Hayton said Monday. “I have a lot of confidence in my game and I just wanted to show that.”

Another person who has a lot of confidence in Hayton’s game is the man who worked with him all summer, Coyotes Director of Player Development Mark Bell, who said Hayton was one of the best rookies of the tournament.

“Barrett’s really good at protecting the puck and making plays in the middle of the ice,” Bell said. “When his line was out there they were real good.”

After being sent down last season, Arizona Coyotes first-round pick Barrett Hayton hopes those lessons carry him into this season. (Photo by Grayson Schmidt/Cronkite News)

When Hayton was sent back to Sault Ste. Marie (also known as Soo), Bell said one of the biggest areas he needed to improve was his speed, so acceleration in the open ice was a major target this summer.

“He was getting the puck into the middle of the ice, then neutral zone, and was either getting caught from behind or not accelerating quick enough,” Bell said. “It was just about honing his whole game. Barrett’s a very detailed player so there really wasn’t a ton to talk through.”

The Coyotes front office made several moves this offseason, including the acquisition of 13-year veteran winger Phil Kessel from Pittsburgh and center Carl Soderberg from Colorado to help boost the offense.

“You look at the push they made down the stretch in the games they were playing, it’s exciting hockey,” Hayton said. “The (off-season) moves they made just emphasize the fact that they’re really going in and out, and it’s just an exciting time.”

But with some of those off-season additions, Hayton’s traditional role as a center might change once he gets settled in Phoenix. But Bell said it doesn’t matter where you put him.

“He’s such a good, well-rounded player that wherever he plays up and down the lineup he can contribute, whether he’s in a scoring role or defending role, or a grinding roll, or penalty-killing role or any role that you put him in.”

And with experience on the wing as well, Hayton said he is just embracing the change, and ready to show that he’s up to the challenge.

“That versatility is going to help me a lot,” Hayton said. “Whether I’m playing on the wing or center, I’m comfortable, so I think obviously that helps when I just want to be in the lineup and making an impact.”

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