Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2018 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Barrett Hayton doesn't just play hockey, he studies the game and understands it.
The left-shot center for Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League also has distinguished himself with his intelligence on the ice. That's what already makes him a complete player and able to adapt to any situation, offensively or defensively.
It's no coincidence Hayton often is compared to Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron.
"[Bergeron] is a player whose example I try to follow and use to create some improvements in my game," Hayton said. "I would describe myself as a complete 200-foot player with offensive abilities. I like making plays and I use my intelligence and skills with the puck to create opportunities."
Hayton, 17, has a way to go in terms of assuming the type of responsibilities handled by the Bruins center, who has won the Selke Trophy four times. Playing for a dominant team that went 55-7-6 with a plus-131 goal differential during the regular season, he was used in a supporting role given his age.
Playing behind established players such as Tampa Bay Lightning prospects forwards Boris Katchouk (No. 44, 2016 NHL Draft) and Taylor Raddysh (No. 58, 2016 draft) and Philadelphia Flyers forward prospect Morgan Frost (No. 27, 2017 NHL Draft), Hayton patiently is waiting his turn while learning everything he can.
"It's good for these young players to be able to rely on talented players who know what a draft year is like," Sault Ste. Marie coach Drew Bannister said. "Being well supported, not being the center of attention on a team and not being overused greatly contributes to their success.
"Barrett has proven himself, especially at the World Under-18 Championship, where he showed beyond a doubt that he is among the cream of his crop. But we put him in a position where he can succeed, and I think that's important for these young players."
That approach seems to be working well. Hayton (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) had 63 points (21 goals, 39 assists) and a plus-24 rating in 63 games.
Hayton, No. 6 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas on June 22-23, not only has shone defensively, he also took advantage of Katchouk and Raddysh playing for Canada at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship to demonstrate his offensive ability.
Promoted to the wing on a line centered by Frost, Hayton had 10 points (four goals, six assists) in eight games between Dec. 13 and Jan. 5.
"Certainly I got a bigger role while they were at the World Juniors, and I tried to use that opportunity not just to make up for their absence, but to also to adjust my thinking," Hayton said.
In addition to improving his production, Hayton also seized the opportunity to demonstrate his adaptability by quickly making the adjustment from center to wing, a position he played at points last season when he was an OHL rookie.
"It says a lot about his intelligence," Bannister said. "He studies the game very well and does not focus only on his position, but also on that of his teammates. He understands that each player is a moving part. No matter if he is playing center or on the wing, he reads the game really well and is aware of everyone else's responsibilities."
Sault Ste. Marie begins its first-round OHL playoff series against Saginaw on Friday. It is considered the favorite after finishing 23 points ahead of any other team in the standings.
That came after Sault Ste. Marie finished second in the OHL standings last season. It's hard to imagine a better way of instilling a winning mentality in a young player like Hayton.
"When NHL teams evaluate a player, they want to see where he comes from," Bannister said. "I believe that Barrett grew up in a culture where defeat is the exception. In the near future he will be part of our leadership group, and our team culture is in good hands with players like Barrett."