Clayton Keller: The new ‘alpha’ of the Coyotes

It’s no secret that the Arizona Coyotes have been a struggling franchise for the last few years, making their last playoff appearance in the 2012-2013 season. Since then, the franchise that is now based in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale has been forced to routinely fight off dismal seasons and relocation rumors.

What was a league-wide secret, however, was just the talent the club’s first-round pick (7th overall) in 2016 possessed.  Just 18 games into his career, the secret is out.

That secret is none other than rookie forward Clayton Keller.

Keller, 19, has shown fans across the world that the bright lights and grueling schedule of the NHL haven’t fazed him. In 15 games this season, Keller has been the “alpha-dog” of the pack in his short tenure in Arizona. The former first-round pick has exploded onto the scene, leading the team in goals (10) and points (16). He is also second on the team in assists with six. While it may be a surprise to most NHL fans, when you look back on his young career, it’s not that shocking.

The St. Louis native had plenty of time playing with the best players, even at a young age. Growing up in what is being called by numerous hockey analysts as the “heartland of hockey,” Keller played with future first-round picks Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary), Luke Kunin (Minnesota), and Logan Brown (Ottawa) as well as several other NHL prospects.

Despite having to share the ice with an immense amount of talent, Keller was a standout. In two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USTDP) Keller helped lead the U.S. Under-18 national team to a gold medal in the IIHF U18 World Championship in 2015 and a bronze in the 2016 tournament. Keller finished his career with the USTDP as the program’s all-time leader in points with 189. He would also finish second in the program’s history in assists.

After helping Team USA to a goal medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships in Toronto, Keller enjoyed a fantastic season at Boston University. In 31 games, the freshman recorded team-highs in goals (21), points (45) and plus-minus (+15). He also tied the team-high with 24 assists. When the Terriers were handed an early exit from the national tournament, the then 19-year-old Keller opted to pursue his career in the NHL, signing his three-year entry-level contract in March of this year. In three games with the Coyotes last season, Keller recorded a pair of assists.

The Coyotes have asked a lot of the 19-year-old forward, but so far he has delivered. He’s been on the top line since the opening of camp with Derek Stepan and Max Domi. That trio has been the backbone of the Arizona offense this season, combining for nearly 30 points.

In fact, Keller is the first rookie in franchise history to score at least nine goals in one month since Teemu Selänne recorded 20 back when the Coyotes were the Winnipeg Jets in 1993. He is also the first to 15 points since Keith Tkachuck and Selänne did so in 1993.

The Coyotes (2-12) are still the bottom dwellers of the NHL, but with an elite talent like Keller on the roster and a small crop of promising youth on the roster, Arizona could be on an upward trend in the near future.

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Joshua Zimmer
Josh Zimmer is the Lead NFL Draft analyst for NGSC Sports as well as serving as a contributor for NHL coverage.
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