GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Barrett Hayton began last season with the Arizona Coyotes, but they returned the center to Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League without playing an NHL game.
The brief time Hayton spent with Arizona at least gave the No. 5 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft enough to know what he must do to stick around this season.
"I learned to play a bigger role, and I think I took a big step in my leadership abilities," Hayton, who was Sault Ste. Marie captain, said at Coyotes development camp in June. "For me, the biggest thing is mindset, playing with pace. I think I have speed and it's something I've really worked on this summer. I'm definitely seeing the improvement that I wanted to."
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The Coyotes are even more convinced than when they drafted Hayton (6-foot-1, 190-pounds) that he brings exactly what they've sought for years.
"He's an elite-level player with elite-level skills," said general manager John Chayka, who said the 19-year-old plays center as well as any player in juniors.
Arizona added accomplished scorers this offseason with forwards Phil Kessel and Carl Soderberg, but Hayton projects as its No. 1 center in the near future after he had 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists) in 39 games with Sault Ste. Marie last season and 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 11 OHL playoff games.
Asked if he expects to be a top-line forward, Hayton said, "Yes."
"I haven't played an NHL game yet, so it's really hard to give you a timetable, but I know I have that potential in me," he said. "Now it's achieving that full potential as fast as possible."
The Coyotes have an abundance of centers with Soderberg, Nick Schmaltz, Derek Stepan, Brad Richardson and Christian Dvorak, but that probably won't delay Hayton's NHL arrival.
He isn't old enough to play for Tucson in the American Hockey League, so he's likely to begin the season with Arizona, which tied for the third-fewest goals (209) in the NHL last season but remained in contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs until its next-to-last game.
Hayton watched the Coyotes struggle to score in key situations last season (no player scored 20 goals or had 50 points). He can't help but wonder if he can solve some of their issues immediately.
"I'm a player who wants to make an impact, and I think I have offensive ability in my game," Hayton said. "I'm able to produce and create offense, so obviously, you look at the way they played last year … they were so detailed and played so hard and so relentless, I think being able to keep that style of play … and hopefully myself adding some offense to that mix will [help]."