Boy, have Hounds missed Hayton -- RUICCI COLUMN

When healthy, Barrett Hayton (right) ‘obviously’ brings an awful lot to the table. Jeffrey Ougler/Sault Star

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Just over half a season.

When all is said and done, that’s about how long the Soo Greyhounds will have enjoyed having their captain, centre Barrett Hayton, in the 2018-2019 lineup.

His absence has hit this team hard.

After missing nine straight with a charley horse, the 18-year-old (2000 birth year) Hayton made his return to the Soo lineup on Thursday in Saginaw.

Now sure, all clubs go through stretches where injuries and other factors rob them of their best players.

That’s sports.

But among OHL contenders, the Hounds are a team heavy with youth and inexperience.

They’re operating with a full complement of three overage players, but just three 19-year-olds (1999 birth year) are on the roster.

And Jaden Peca wasn’t added until just before the Jan. 10 trade deadline.

So a lot has been expected from first-and-second-year players.

And most of the time, they’ve delivered.

But finding ways to compensate for the loss of the six-foot-one, 191-pound Hayton hasn’t always been easy.

Going into the Saginaw game, the Hounds had played 37 previous games with the Peterborough native in their lineup.

He had 22 goals, 38 assists and a plus-minus of plus-18.

Prior to the Saginaw tilt, with Hayton playing the Soo was beaten just six times in regulation.

With their captain available, the Greyhounds had managed to put together a rousing 25-6-5-1 record.

Without Hayton, the Soo entered Thursday’s game with just a 16-10-2-0 mark.

The biggest difference in the Greyhounds with, and without Hayton, can be seen when you take a closer look at this club’s ability to produce offence.

With Hayton, the Hounds had averaged 4.65 goals per game.

Without the Arizona Coyotes prospect, the Soo had managed just 3.82 on average.

Now those numbers are skewed somewhat by the fact that, like Hayton, fellow centre Morgan Frost also missed 12 games while both were away with Team Canada.

That was both prior to, and during the World Junior Hockey Championship.

When healthy, Hayton obviously brings an awful lot to the table.

He’s highly skilled with a rocket of a shot.

But he’s also the ultimate competitor, a player who battles hard in all three zones.

Coaches always know what they’re going to get from him – all-out effort.

And Hayton is the kind of guy who sets an example for his teammates.

He may not be the most vocal of captains, but he leads with the help of the example he sets.

And without him in the lineup, the Greyhounds have simply not been the same team.

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