Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Age on Draft Day: 18.05
Height/Weight: 6’1.25, 190 pounds
2017-2018 SHL Stats (Including Playoffs): 87 GP, 29 G, 52 A, 50 PIM, +22
NHL Central Scouting: 9th (North American Skaters)
Craig Button (TSN): 7th
Future Considerations: 11th
ISS Hockey: 12th
Canucks Army: 17th
Scott Wheeler: 24th
Let me get out in front of this and state that I am very aware that my ranking of Hayton is radically lower than the consensus. In particular, TSN’s Bob McKenzie, whose rankings are an amalgamation of the opinions of numerous NHL scouts, has Hayton 11th overall. So, it seems very possible that Hayton gets selected in the top-10. And yet I have him at the end of the first round. I don’t take that lightly.
On one hand, you don’t want to be a sheep. If everyone conforms to the party line, then nobody learns anything. On the other hand, it’s arrogant to assume you’re the smartest guy in the room. You need to do your research, find out why others think differently than you, assess whether you’re missing any information or subject to any biases, and reevaluate.
I will say this: I spoke to multiple scouts who similarly view Hayton as a late-first round pick. In fact, I was able to confirm that one NHL team in particular (not the Rangers) has him as a borderline second-round pick on their list. So I am not alone here. I am going to do my best to explain why I have Hayton at 27, and you can then come to your own conclusions.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were quite clearly the best team in the Canadian Hockey League this season, posting a 55-7-6 record during the regular season while making it to Game Seven of the OHL Final. Hayton was a big part of that. He was the team’s second-line center and played a role in all situations. The Greyhounds are a team that utilizes an extremely thorough tactical plan for working as five-man units. Hayton fit right in with what they were doing. He is a smart forechecker who pursues the puck and makes zone exits difficult through persistence and positioning. Though he was not their top center, he was certainly the one Head coach Drew Bannister relied on in shutdown minutes.
Offensively, Hayton has some creativity on the puck to make his own shot. Every now and then he executes a crafty deke to beat a defender, and makes some really good passes to set up his teammates for quality scoring opportunities.
Mitch Brown at The Athletic did a tracking project for CHL players and, in his eight-game sample, found Hayton to be one of the better players in junior hockey when it comes to setting up shots and scoring chances for his teammates.
By all accounts, Hayton is a good hockey player and I think he will have an NHL career. However, I have significant concerns about his upside. For starters, his production in the OHL is merely good; not great. Via Prospect-Stats.com, here is how Hayton stacks up by some metrics compared to centers Akil Thomas and Ryan McLeod, who are both expected to be selected in the second half of the first round.
Hayton has not done much, offensively, at least, to separate himself from those two. And that’s an extremely generous interpretation.
What’s more, I have an extremely strong suspicion that team and usage effects strongly inflated his production. Again, the Greyhounds were an absolute buzzsaw this season. In his defense, that did mean that he got fewer minutes, and in more icetime he of course would have produced more offense. However, I think it did more good than harm for him. Morgan Frost, their first line center, was the best player in the OHL this season. Thus, teams matched their best players against Frost’s line, leaving Hayton to face far inferior competition. Furthermore, he had a ton of talent around him. Tim Gettinger and Jack Kopacka, both 19 years old to start the season, were among the better wingers in the OHL, and Hayton played with them plenty. On the power play, he got fed pucks from Conor Timmins, who is one of the top passing defensemen in the CHL. Hayton was ranked just seventh on the Greyhounds in points-per-game (minimum 20 games played).
I also think Hayton was too reliant on power play production. Again, let’s first note that his scoring overall is hardly superlative. Among OHL skaters (minimum 20 games played), Hayton ranked 58th in points-per-game and 61st in primary points-per-game.
Isolating for five-on-five, however, it becomes underwhelming. Hayton drops to 78th by points-per-game and 87th by primary points-per-game. Here is how he ranked among U-18 forwards in the OHL last season by five-on-five primary points-per-game.
Hayton ranked 13th, below a number of players who project to be taken in the second- or third-rounds, if even then. By points-per-game, he ranked 11th among U18 OHL forwards, and by goals-per-game he ranked 23rd. Whether some of the guys above him are underrated is a discussion for another day. The overall point here is that Hayton sure did not produce like a player who should be anywhere close to the top-10 of this draft.
So why do people, most notably many NHL scouts, have Hayton so high on their lists?
First, this is a weak draft for centers. When we had ranked center Jesperi Kotkaniemi eighth on our list, it was the most ambitious ranking of him out there; Bob McKenzie had him 10th. Now, Kotkaniemi seems like destined to go in the top-five. Teams really want centers, and so centers are jumping up the lists.
This is a poor strategy, in my opinion. Yes, all things being equal you’d rather have a game-changing center than a winger. However, we see this happen in football all the time, where a team needs a quarterback and convinces themselves that an otherwise nondescript quarterback can change their franchise. This only exacerbates the problem down the road, and in the meantime you miss out on legitimate talent.
Hayton also had a very strong showing in the playoffs for the Greyhounds, and that is also probably a source of confidence that scouts have placed in his ability. Sure, it is good to perform well in important games, and it’s also good to show improvement as a season progresses. However, there are massive biases at play here - recency bias, selection bias, flashbulb memory - that can result in giving this performance too much weight. There is a long list of players who were given bad contracts due to playoff performance in a small sample, such as Bryce Salvador in 2012 and Bryan Bickell in 2015. Hayton’s playoff performance absolutely must be taken into account, but I do think it is not by itself a good reason to rank Hayton as a high first-round pick.
Overall, I think Hayton is a good player who is getting propped up as a great one by “Hockey Men.” Hayton has good size and is well rounded. He wins draws, plays a gritty game, and is a good teammate. There are a million different moving parts to an NHL team, so a guy like Hayton gives the head coach and GM one fewer headache to deal with. He’s going to slot in and do his job.
That’s all great, and it’s why I have him ranked in the first round. I would also entertain arguments that I have him a bit too low here. I think he is a perfectly good pick in the early 20s and even a defendable on in the very late teens.
But for practical purposes, that’s irrelevant. It appears Hayton will be taken in the top-15 at worst, and so he is a player I would avoid. I just do not see the upside to justify taking him in the top-10, or anywhere soon after. I think Hayton at his best can be a middle-six center who can perhaps pass as a full-time second-line pivot on an otherwise well-built team. Think Antoine Vermette or Dave Bolland. I do not see the first-line, or even high-end second-line talent from Hayton that others do. I feel as confident about this as I do just about anything regarding this draft. Could I end up being completely wrong? Absolutely. I am not omniscient. Next season will be a big indicator, as the Greyhounds will be losing a good chunk of their top players to pro hockey. At that point, Hayton will either excel in a more important role or will be exposed as a product of his team.
What Others Have Said
Bob McKenzie, TSN:
“If a top-10 team is looking for a centre, and Kotkaniemi is gone, Hayton could easily crash the top 10.”
Craig Button, TSN:
“When I think of comparables, I think of Patrice Bergeron.”