NHL draft tracker: John Hayden, U.S. under-18 team

Neate Sager

John Hayden enjoys playing against type.

Since a mention of his hometown of Greenwich, Conn., is sure to trigger a response such as "affluence" during word association games, it seems like a more likely place to turn out a stockbroker than a grim-minded winger whose stock in trade is turning pucks over.

The Yale University recruit raised his draft status over the past season by displaying exceptional agility for a 6-foot-2½, 210-pound teenaged forward with the U.S. under-18 team. How early Hayden comes off the board at the June 30 NHL draft might depend on how much pressure NHL teams feel to add a big winger.

"I get a lot the 'Greenwich pretty boy' stuff, that gets me fired up," says Hayden, who is NHL Central Scouting's 29th-ranked domestic skater. "I like to play a hard game, that's my style.

"I like to describe myself as a gritty guy with some skill," adds Hayden, who counted 16 goals and 31 points across 51 games with the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based U18 team. "A lot of people like to use the term 'power forward' which is a pretty loose term as far as NHL players are concerned. For me, it just means being tough to play against."

Hayden's rugged style has raised questions of whether he might fit better into major junior hockey than joining reigning NCAA Division I champion Yale. The right wing resisted offers last fall from the eventual Memorial Cup champion Halifax Mooseheads. Of course, the Bulldogs also won it all this season under respected coach Keith Allain.

"Coach Allain has coached at the pro level and done an unbelievable job of developing prospects coming through Yale," Hayden says of playing in his home state. "Winning the national championship obviously shows how well they're doing. It's a growing program. Everything from the coaching staff, to how they play, works for me."

"I enjoy the challenge. I know that the competition for ice time will be strong. I'm looking forward to coming into that and trying to repeat."

1. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest thing you have to work on between now and when you'll be on the cusp of turning pro?

"I'm addressing my quickness this summer. Watching video throughout the year has made it clear that being quicker would help open up the game for me and help me help my linemates."

2. You have to play your game, but whom in the NHL do you watch closely since he (or they) play a style similar to yours?

"Two guys for sure would be [Philadelphia Flyers right wing] Wayne Simmonds and [New York Rangers left wing] Ryane Clowe. They're both gritty and at the same time they're good around the net with their skill. Both are competitive guys who are really fun to watch."

3. In Canada, there is still the gold-or-disgrace mindset with the world championship. USA Hockey had a lock on the IIHF U18 gold medal before being edged in the final this season. Just wondering, how did you and your teammates work past that disappointment?

"It's a two-year commitment and there were a lot of positives to take from it on the way to the world championship — beating a college team, tying UNH [University of New Hampshire] when they were the No. 1-ranked team. We had a great run to the final game. It is our goal to win the gold medal, but it's only one game, not a seven-game series. Obviously there's disappointment there, a couple bounces, a couple scoring chances made the difference, so it's a little bitter."

4. Hockey is an all-consuming pursuit; what do you do when you need to clear your mind of it for a few hours?

"I love golfing. It's pretty relaxing. It's kind of at the other end of the spectrum from hockey. I was also away from my buddies for two years while I was with the NTDP, so I've really been enjoying catching up with them the last few weeks."

5. Athletes need to be super-strict about nutrition but hey, no one is perfect. What's your go-to for empty calories?

"In the summer, I train with Prentiss Hockey Performance and they keep you on a pretty strict diet. Maybe some ice cream, though — Oreo, probably. But I feel better with a healthy diet."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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