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NHL Mock Draft 2018: New Jersey Devils Select Barrett Hayton with No. 17 Pick

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In the 2018 SB Nation NHL Mock Draft, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds center Barrett Hayton was surprisingly available at 17th overall. So we picked him for the New Jersey Devils in this mock draft. Learn why we did that and learn more about him in this post.

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds v Windsor Spitfires
Hayton to the Devils in our mock draft? Say YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.
Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

I was surprised when it came to our turn in this year’s mock draft among the NHL blogs. Way back in May, Brian and I worked out who we would profile for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Brian originally had this player on his list. I told him to take him out as I thought he would be a potential top ten pick. Lo and behold, he was available after all. So in the 2018 Sports Blog Nation NHL Mock Draft, we selected from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, center Barrett Hayton.

Why Barrett Hayton?

This was not an easy decision in that there were a lot of directions we could have gone with. That winger Joel Farabee, defenseman Bode Wilde, and center Rasmus Kupari were picked right before us made it a bit harder. However, we decided that when a potential top ten or twelve pick drops to #17, then it is best to not overthink it.

It also helped a lot that Hayton is one of the more solid first-round caliber prospects. I will go into more detail a little later, but the short and sweet version is that Hayton is a very smart and skilled center who played in all situations on a strong Greyhounds team at the young age of 17. Pretty much most prospects have a notable flaw to their game; but Hayton’s projects to being some kind of useful NHL player. In a draft where the Devils only have the one first round pick in the first three rounds, getting a useful NHL player is a priority.

From the feedback I received from the others, it was agreed that Hayton was one of, if the most, talented players remaining at #17 in this mock draft. Do not take this to mean that the Devils should not take a defenseman or that taking a defenseman is a bad choice. I like some of the remaining defenders such K’Andre Miller, most of Rasmus Sandin, and Jared McIssac. There’s also Ryan Merkley, who can be a real find if his defensive game gets upgraded from occasionally catastrophic. There may be more of an argument as to whether Akil Thomas or Vitali Kravtsov would be equally good selections among available forwards. But were these players more talented than Hayton, a do-it-all center who did it all and rather well at the age of 17? I don’t think so. That is why we went in this direction.

I personally do not think Hayton makes it to 17th overall when the real 2018 NHL Entry Draft takes place on June 22. But we shall see.

Who is Barrett Hayton?

Since I regrettably took Hayton off the profile list, I will provide a truncated one here so you are aware of who we picked in the 2018 SB Nation NHL Mock Draft.

Barrett Hayton is a left-handed shooting center who plays for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. His profile at Elite Prospects lists him at 6’1” and 185 pounds with a birthdate of June 9, 2000. This means he was 17 throughout his entire 2017-18 season. That campaign was a breakout for Hayton.

It all started with the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Hayton was one of Canada’s best players with three goals and three assists in five games. Only Jack McBain tied him in goals for the team lead and only Joe Veleno edged him in total points. The Hlinka would be his sole international appearance as his junior team went deep in the playoffs and he was unavailable for the World U-18 Championships. I cannot think that he would not have been selected if he was, though.

If the Hlinka opened some eyes to Hayton, his season with the Greyhounds commanded even more attention. In the OHL, Hayton returned to the Greyhounds for his second season. As a 16-year old, Hayton played in 63 games and nine playoff games, but his usage was limited. According to the OHL website, Hayton only put up nine goals, eighteen assists, and 97 shots in the regular season; and only two goals and twelve shots in the playoffs. But he turned it up in 2017-18 and ended up being the second-line center on one of the OHL’s best teams. Hayton’s production jumped. According to the OHL website, in 63 regular season games, Hayton scored 21 goals, picked up 39 assists, and took 158 shots. These points included eight power play goals, thirteen power play assists, and two shorthanded assists. Hayton won about half of his total faceoffs and kept his penalty minutes to around a half-minute per game. In the postseason, Hayton put up eight goals, thirteen assists, and 65 shots in 24 playoff games. Again, this did include four power play goals, eight power play assists, and one shorthanded assist. Again, Hayton did not take many penalties, but he did win way more draws (56.3% winning percentage on faceoffs). Remember: Hayton was 17 throughout 2017-18 and he made an impact in multiple ways on a team that boasted the likes of Morgan Frost, Taylor Raddysh, and Boris Katchouk.

Unfortunately, the Soo lost in the OHL Finals to the Hamilton Bulldogs. But the post-season had one more accolade for Hayton. Hayton was awarded the Bobby Smith Trophy by the OHL for the league’s scholastic player of the year. (Aside: Marvel at the highlights near the beginning of the video in this link.) Hayton certainly worked hard off off the ice and used his intelligence well to earn this award. As it turns out, Hayton worked very hard on the ice and used his intelligence well to be an important player on a strong Sault Ste. Marie team.

What Others Say About Barrett Hayton

As Hayton played in the OHL, Brock Otten’s OHL Prospects is the first place I visited to learn more about Hayton. He has been a consistent fixture of Otten’s top 10 OHL prospect lists in 2017-18. On February 21, Hayton finished third in Otten’s media/scout poll of the top prospects. Here are some of the positive and negative comments about the player:

“When you are the 2nd line centre on the best junior team in the country you are doing something right. Hayton has improved his skating greatly since his 16 year old season. He has an NHL caliber shot and really shows his strength on the puck in the Greyhounds possession system.” - Peter Kneulman

“I still don’t see what a lot of scouts see in Hayton. He’s got above average tools but there’s nothing about his game that really pops and I fear a great Ivan Hlinka and a bolstered team in the Soo has bloated his status. There’s no question he’s a good two-way player who can drive play, but I don’t think he has the ability to be a star at the next level.” - Anonymous

“Hayton has good size (6-1, 191) and does everything at top speed. There’s no hitch in his game when he wants to make a play. And when he wants to make a play at top speed, he can do that too, so he’s hard to cover. A high ceiling here because once he gains more confidence and begins figuring out the impact he can have, that’s when his development will take that next step.” - Mike Morreale

The quotes from Mike Morreale and Steve Kournianos really highlight why I think he will be a coveted player. Hayton’s size is a non-issue. He plays with pace. He can make plays and he has notable shot. He can make improvements to his game and those improvements came along with a big jump in production and role on his team. As Morreale indicates, if or when Hayton can realize how good he can really be, then he may become a force.

The anonymous quote is more critical and sums up why Hayton may be available in the middle of the first round in two key points. First, the perception is that Hayton may be good to very good at a lot of different aspects but he isn’t necessarily adept or special at one of them. In other words, Hayton may be a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none forward. And that may not be worth taking with an early to mid-first round selection. Second, Hayton put up numbers and looked real good on two really talented teams. Team Canada is usually a loaded team and they did win the Hlinka again. The Greyhounds were powerhouses throughout the season and went all the way to the finals. It could be that Hayton may not have thrived on a weaker team.

I’ll interject with my own thought on that last point. I personally think that could be turned around. Team Canada and the Greyhounds are not charitable organizations. Their goals this season were to succeed. In order to play significant minutes on those teams, the player needs to be good enough. Their spot is not necessarily safe. Hayton played his way into those roles and maintained it throughout the Hlinka and the OHL season and playoffs. Therefore, I see it as a testament to how good he is as opposed to a possible sign that he may have been made to look better than he did.

Anyway, let’s go back to Otten. His own ranking of Hayton in the middle of last season was that he was sixth among all OHL prospects. He was quite complimentary. This section of his description summed up the view of his game at the time:

I really enjoy watching Hayton play. He’s a real warrior on the ice; a real puck hound. Incredibly effective player below the hash marks. Has excellent anticipation on the forecheck and forces a lot of turnovers. Isn’t asked to be a prime time penalty killer right now (because SSM is that good), but eventually, he will be a prime time PK’er. Also exhibits a great understanding of lanes and spacing. Not the world’s most gifted skater (only average), but he’s so effective at finding open space in the offensive end. His brain operates a little quicker than the defense and he’s very versatile. The type of player who seems to fit in well with any linemates. Because of a quick release and these great instincts, Hayton will be a 40 goal scorer in the OHL eventually. It will be interesting to see how his game with the puck, and in transition, progresses throughout his OHL career, to see if it can match his abilities without the puck

Otten compared Hayton’s game to Bryan Little, who is one of the better forwards in the league. An underrated player, in my view. So I see that as a good heap of praise. Again, Otten thinks well enough of his off the puck play and praises his thinking and shooting of the puck. The skating may be an issue, but it was not brought up again when Otten ranked Hayton third in his final OHL prospect list for 2018. This is what he wrote about his game:

Consistency needs to be applauded because it can be hard for these kids to achieve. But Hayton has been a rock for the Hounds all season long. Between the regular season and the playoffs, he played in 87 games this year and he made an impact in nearly all of them. You just know what you’re going to get from him. He’s relentless in his puck pursuit and is a terrific forechecker. As such, he’s a very effective three zone player because of how hungry he is for the puck. At the same time, he has the skill level to create from the turnovers he creates. In fact, his puck skill and creativity are areas of his game that are extremely underrated. If there’s a criticism about Hayton, it’s that he seems to defer to teammates to make those creative plays, even though he’s capable himself. I think it’s where some people get the perception of his lack of potential. But as he gains confidence and gets a larger role in the offensive scheme, this guy will put up points. Another aspect of Hayton’s game that needs to be applauded is his awareness away from the puck in the offensive zone. Consistently finds holes and beats defenders to scoring areas where he can take advantage of his extremely quick release, IMO, one of the quickest in the age group.

It is really hard to be an effective forechecker and have significant skating issues. It is really hard to be a consistent player with significant skating issues. It is hard to pursue pucks and plays with significant skating issues. I am thinking that if Hayton has issues with his skating, they may not be all that significant. I am seeing that the criticism about the lack of confidence may have something to do with Hayton not shooting the puck that much. Granted, 158 shots in 63 games is not a huge amount. But he was on a really talented Sault Ste. Marie team where he had no shortage of offensive options for shooting. Maybe next season, Hayton will be called upon to be more of a shooter. Again, Otten makes the Little comparison and I appreciate that consistency.

For what it’s worth, Otten had Hayton going 11th in his own mock draft.

Let’s switch gears and see what Ben Kerr wrote about Hayton at Last Word on Hockey Prospects. As usual, Kerr put together a very good profile of the player. Kerr thinks Hayton is a very good skater and states that his defensive game is “advanced for a 17-year old.” His write up about his offense had this part which made me curious.

Hayton has a heavy shot and a good release. A big reason for his increased goal scoring this year has been his ability to get into the right spots and use that wrist shot more often. He has also improved his accuracy but can still stand to get better in this area. His slap shot needs some work though, as it lacks power and his wind-up is very big. Hayton is not afraid to get to the front of the net. Once he gets there, he battles hard for position and has the soft hands to finish plays in tight. Hayton scores on tip-ins, quick one-timers and by quickly pouncing on rebounds.

Hayton plays a straightforward game. He protects the puck well on the cycle and has some soft hands. However, he is not the type of forward to dangle a defenceman and get past him in a one-on-one situation. Instead, Hayton looks to keep the puck moving, find the open man, and then get it to the net. He is a smart player, who makes quick, smart plays with the puck on his stick. He is also good on the forecheck. While he does not lay a lot of big hits, he gets in quickly, pressuring defenders and creating turnovers.

I did not realize the slap shot could be better. I did not get that impression from Otten or the people who gave a quote in his midseason poll. Still, that Hayton does not necessarily succeed in one-on-one situations on offense and instead prefers to pass the puck speaks to the “confidence” issue with his offensive game. Basically, this shows that Hayton could stand to make a few gains.

As Kerr pointed out, the good news is that Hayton will likely have a larger role on the Greyhound next season and he’ll have the opportunity to make and sustain those gains. In contrast to Otten’s description in his final ranking, Kerr thinks consistency is an issue for Hayton. I mean, this is a 17 year old player, that is not a total surprise. But it is weird that Otten and Kerr diverge on that point. Maybe they saw different enough performances from him? I do not know. If you like comparisons, Kerr compares his game to Patrice Bergeron - which is really high praise even if it is only style-comparison.

I do know that Steve Kournianos always is worth your time reading about prospects. Kournianos profiled Hayton in particular on his website, The Draft Analyst, back on April 16. I would like to highlight Kournianos’ ranking of the top 25 center prospects available in the draft. This is apparently a thin one for centers as we could see the top ten entirely devoid of pivots. Kournianos ranked Hayton third on the list, which went up on April 15. This was his comment:

Whether you view this two-way center as the beneficiary of a deep supporting cast or a key cog in Sault Ste Marie’s attack, the truth is Hayton is a very skilled, heady player regardless. He has excellent vision and makes most defenders mis when he’s controlling the puck below the circles.

He rates Veleno and Kupari - who went before Hayton in the SBN Mock Draft - higher than Hayton. But between this and the profile, Kournianos has plenty of positive things to say about his game. As such, he has continually ranked him well in his rankings after the preseason (jumped from 48th to 17th!) and had him going 15th in his May 21 mock draft at the Sporting News website with this blurb:

Hayton is another center whose two-way game and puck skills could find him drafted in the top 10. The question is whether or not Hayton has been the byproduct of a dominant team. The optics reveal a sure-mitted pivot with a quick, accurate shot who can pull off highlight-reel plays. The fact that he hasn’t done so as a first-line player could help land him on the Panthers’ lap.

That he considers him as a possible top ten pick as late as May speaks to his talent level.

I will close out this section by referring to one of the many profiles of Hayton on the SBN network. No disrespect to the others, but the profile by Kyle F. at Broad Street Hockey includes Mitch Brown’s (of The Athletic) tracking results of a small sample of Hayton’s games. That is what I want to highlight. Out of the seven games counted by Brown of The Athletic, Hayton had enough primary shot assists per 60 minutes, scoring chance assists per 60 minutes, and zone exits per 60 minutes to rank among the best in the junior hockey. He also ranked well in zone entry rates. He ranked much lower when it came to shots and scoring chances by himself. His Corsi and Scoring Chance relative stats are also really low; but that possibly may be due to following Morgan Frost’s awesome line. While this is all out of a really small sample (seven games), it provides some further evidence that Hayton is very good at making defensive plays and creating offensive plays, but he could stand to take more initiative when it comes to shooting.

A Little Video

The clip that came with the announcement of Hayton winning the Bobby Smith Trophy features him skating to the right post along the goal line, tucking the puck between his legs, and flipping a wrister from behind to beat a goalie shortside. And that play was in the playoffs. That alone shows he has flair. And in the same game, he went lacrosse-style for a goal. Goodness. Score goals like that and you can celebrate how you want. Don’t like it? Stop him. Saginaw couldn’t. But more video evidence is always good. In fact, here’s a 13:15 minute video filled of highlights from this past season. Look for #27.

Where is Hayton Ranked?

Well, we took him at 17th overall. Here’s how the various services and people ranked him. I usually put this earlier in the profile, but this is a nice way to bring this more to closure.

Only Hockey Prospect has him in the Devils’ range based on rankings. That said, Kournianos’ ranking puts him as a possibility. Being 9th among North American skaters by NHL CSS does the same. However, the other services have him enough spots ahead of 17th to make me think he will not likely be around when the Devils pick in real life on June 22.

Final Thoughts & Your Take

When looking up things about Barrett Hayton, I became more and more surprised that he was available in the 2018 SBN NHL Mock Draft for the New Jersey Devils. While the Devils in this mock draft and in real life will likely have a lot of different options to prepare for, a center who can do it all and did quite a lot of it well who is also fairly young in his draft class should be seen as a premier prospect. A 17-year old that can defend, defend well, and be able to create a lot of good plays while showing off that he has some flair of his own is not somebody who can be easily passed up. He’s one of the more complete prospects who plays a center position, which is not exactly loaded this year. I don’t see how this guy will be passed up enough before 17th overall.

But it is possible. That it is possible speaks to how strong the 2018 NHL Draft class really is that arguments can be (and will be) made for others to go ahead of prospect of Hayton’s caliber. I really do not see how all sixteen NHL teams ahead of New Jersey think someone else will be better. Sure, I can see him not making the top ten. But I don’t think Edmonton, the Islanders, Dallas, Florida, Philadelphia and Colorado all agree that someone is ahead of Hayton. Everybody has their own draft board and at the end of the day, that is what matters.

I am a big fan of Hayton as a prospect and I would be thrilled if the Devils were able to get him in real life. As stated earlier, we decided to not overthink the mock draft pick and went with the most talented prospect available. To me, that was Hayton. I thought that way when the pick was made, I thought that way last week, and I think that way now. I do regret taking him off the profile list; Brian was right to have him there in the first place.

Of course, that’s my take on the whole matter. Do you like the mock draft selection of Hayton? Do you agree that he was the best player available? If he would not be your choice, who would you have taken? Keep in mind Martin Kaut, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ty Smith, Joe Veleno, Farabee, Wilde and Kupari all went before the Devils in this mock draft. If you demand it must be a defenseman, then who and - just as importantly - why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Barrett Hayton and our mock draft pick in the comments.

The real 2018 NHL Entry Draft will start with the first round on June 22. We are almost there. Thank you for reading.