With few high-end centres available in the draft, those who are eligible have a few flaws to their game. Some struggle with inconsistency, others rely solely on their skill to get by, or have limited offensive upside to complement a strong defensive game.
For Barrett Hayton, the biggest concern is his skating ability. He doesn’t have a great stride, nor a high top speed, and that limits the impact he’s able to have on a game.
That’s unfortunate for him, because the rest of his game would have him projected among the elite prospects in the draft class.
Birthplace: Kitchener, Ontario
Date of birth: June 9, 2000
Weight: 185 lbs.
Team: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Hayton is a deft puck-handler, and can gain the offensive zone by working his way through a maze of defenders. It works at the junior level against defencemen who either don’t project to be NHL players, or versus those who do but are still learning when to jump up and attack a player with possession, but the slow pace at which he has to do it probably isn’t going to cut it at higher levels.
He compensates for his lack of footspeed with hard work and a relentless forecheck. It means he has to exert a lot of his energy just to get in position to make a play, but it has helped him to turn things in his team’s favour, working the puck to the offensive zone where his skill set can really shine.
You won’t see any goals off the rush in his highlight pack, but you do see a lot of effective plays once possession is established in the offensive zone. Off a faceoff win or on the power play, his speed issues are mitigated and his combination of hockey sense and stick skills can come to the fore.
He distributes the puck well, on both his forehand and backhand, which forces defenders to be on their toes when he has the puck. Those stickhandling moves work better when the pace is slowed and defenders aren’t able overcome him with their better mobility, allowing him to pull the puck around a defending player to open up a new passing lane.
He has a decent shot that is able to beat goaltenders from medium range, but his finishing ability is best around the net where he can use his hands to deke past the netminder’s defences. Eight of his 21 goals were scored on the power play, where he is often deployed in the slot to look for tips, rebounds, and short passes. It’s a position that best serves his skill set, and a smart move on the part of his coaches to maximize his offensive potential.
In the defensive zone, his lauded hockey sense has him in good position to block shots and deflect passes, but, once again, when the play is in motion, his lack of speed can be exposed and he has a difficult time containing on-rushing attackers. His relentless approach helps him out in board battles, so he is still an overall effective player in his zone.
Future Considerations: #11
The Hockey News: #12
NHL Central Scouting: #9 (North American skaters)
In the offensive and defensive zones, he can be one of the top players on the ice. His stick skills demand respect on offence, and his tenacity in both ends makes him a difficult player to play against.
A two-way centre in the OHL, Hayton’s skill with the puck lends itself to the transition game needed to get from his own end to the offensive zone. That aspect of his game will get more difficult as he attempts to rise through the professional ranks. He has been working on his skating, which improved for the 2017-18 season, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in increasing his footspeed.
At the NHL Scouting Combine, Trevor Timmins stated that speed is one of the more critical elements to consider in an NHL prospect for today’s NHL. Other teams have been adopting that mentality in the last few years. That could see many clubs have one other player they rank more highly than Hayton on their list when they’re called to the podium on June 22, and it’s entirely possible that Hayton slides down the board from current projections that place him just outside the top 10.