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Barrett Hayton plays important 10th game, is ‘a big part of’ Coyotes

Barrett Hayton #29 of the Arizona Coyotes in action during the third period of the NHL game against the Vegas Golden Knights at Gila River Arena on October 10, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Golden Knights 4-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Arizona Coyotes center Barrett Hayton played in his 10th NHL game on Thursday, triggering the start of his three-year entry-level contract.

That milestone is often made much of, since teams can “slide” an 18- or 19-year-old’s entry-level contract back one year if they reassign a player to his junior team before they play 10 NHL games in a season. Hayton, though, has now reached the important threshold, and the 2019-20 season will be the first of three on his deal.

The Coyotes still have the option of sending Hayton back to the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, where he played before making the Coyotes out of training camp, but him reaching the 10-game mark should signal that the organization felt keeping him on the NHL roster was worth burning the first year of his contract.

“We’re going to do what’s right for his development,” general manager John Chayka told ArizonaSports.com. “Whether it’s 10 games, 20 games, 50 games, whatever’s best for him and the organization, short-term, long-term, we’ll look to do that, regardless of any arbitrary game marks.”

Chayka indicated that sending Hayton back to the OHL remains on the table, even though the Coyotes have already used a team-friendly first year of his contract on the 2019-20 season. He also said that he didn’t view the 10-game threshold as a point of urgency in making a decision, even though the team did have Hayton play nine games and then hold him out of the lineup for six games.

“No. I think like I said, there are consequences of that, but ultimately we feel like those are kind of minimized compared to making sure that we raise this player the right way, give him every opportunity to continue to evolve and grow as a player,” Chayka said. “And that’s our main focus.”

One factor to consider in all of this is the NHL-CHL agreement, which says that if an NHL team selects an 18- or 19-year-old player from the CHL (Hayton played in the OHL, which is under the CHL) and doesn’t keep him on its roster, it has to return him to the CHL team. In other words, sending Hayton to the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners was not an option.

Therefore, the Coyotes had to weigh the benefits of keeping Hayton on the NHL squad or sending him back to a league where he’s already played at a high level.

“It’s night and day,” Hayton said of the difference between junior hockey and the NHL. “It’s the best league in the world. Nothing really compares to that, nothing kind of prepares you for that. Everyone’s just phenomenal players here, the pace is extremely high. It’s a fast game.”

HOW HE’S DOING

The fifth overall pick in 2018, Hayton has shown the ability to create scoring chances and has four points in nine games so far — one of those being a goal.

Perhaps his most impressive play so far was fighting off a defender with one arm, and using his other arm to make a one-handed pass that led to a goal (see tweet below). He also had a between-the-legs pass to Phil Kessel for a goal.

“Really well,” Chayka said when asked how Hayton has done. “I think he’s done a lot of good things. Like any young player, there’s ups and downs and lessons along the way, but we’re talking about a guy that can be an impact, 200-foot player, can play through the middle of the ice, can make plays. He’s brought some offense to the games he’s played for us as well, which is the hardest thing to do in this league.”

The gap between his last game, which was against Columbus, and the game Thursday against the Maple Leafs was a big one. But even when he’s not playing, Hayton can skate with the team, sit in meetings, work out and observe. Those are all beneficial to his development. He also stays rested.

“People don’t understand — he stayed here all summer and he worked hard. He was on the ice a lot. And he’s used to junior hockey, it’s a big step,” head coach Rick Tocchet said. “So it’s OK to manage it that way. He’s always constantly working on his footspeed, he’s working on his game. He’s got a hell of a shot. And his hockey IQ. We’re lucky to have him and we’re in a good spot with him.”

Hayton said he’s been learning a lot and that it’s good to hit the 10-game milestone, although it’s not as big of a deal to him as some might make it out to be. That becomes more understandable when one considers what his general manager said: Chayka is going to do what’s best for Hayton and for the Coyotes, even if the first year of the contract has been put into effect.

“He’s a big part of our team. A big part of our team for now and obviously more so into the future,” Chayka said. “So just working on developing him the right way and kind of slow and steady. He’s done a lot of good things this year.”

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