Ever since Clayton Keller was chosen seventh overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft the expectations that he can excel in the NHL have been a no-brainer. Raised in Chesterfield, Missouri, it was his complete thrill to play his first NHL game against the local St. Louis Blues on March 29, 2017. And, it was even more of a thrill to score his first NHL point when he assisted on a goal by Alex Goligoski on the power play at 14:37 of the final period.
Arizona Coyotes Clayton Keller’s Year to Shine
2017-18 Season Was Remarkable
Keller only played three games in the 2016-17 season but managed two assists to start out his NHL career on a positive note. His next season he showed the promise that the Coyotes had in him when they drafted him so high. He tallied 23 goals, with 42 assists and didn’t miss a game. At just 19-years-old, he led the Coyotes in scoring and by nine points no less!
Standing 5’10”, 170 pounds Keller became the consummate playmaker connecting with veteran centre Derek Stepan. They teamed up for 27 points playing together and he became an integral member of the power-play unit. He gathered six goals and 14 assists on the man advantage. His 10.8 percent shooting accuracy was impressive and he was third in the Calder Trophy voting, which is awarded to the most outstanding NHL rookie.
His play on the power play was exceptional. It looked like the Coyotes had found themselves a real jewel of a player. While his size may be a negative, his speed and passing abilities make up for any discrepancies. He has good vision on the ice and gets the puck to his teammates with skill and can certainly shoot the puck as well.
Clayton Keller 2018-19 Sophomore Jinx
Just when everyone thought Keller would continue to improve his numbers, the sophomore jinx hit him a bit. He faltered to 14 goals, 33 assists. His total output dropped 18 points from his successful rookie season. His shooting percentage dipped to just 7 percent, and he had a not too great +/- of -21. He only tallied one power play goal but assisted on 18.
So what happened?
It’s not uncommon for a rookie to have an issue in their second season. It happens to the best of them. What could have really affected Keller’s offensive output last season was when Nick Schmaltz went down in January with a season-ending injury.
The duo had combined for nine points while on the ice together over a month’s time. Who knows what they would have accomplished had Schmaltz not been injured. The two players just clicked similar to when former Coyotes line mates Max Domi and Anthony Duclair skated together. It’s just a chemistry knowing where the other player is and what moves they can make in certain situations.
To emphasize just how Keller and Schmaltz clicked Keller only scored 18 more points when the new calendar year arrived. That was a period of 43 games. Keller was in a slump and perhaps the opposing teams were catching on to some of his moves they had seen the previous season. Or, maybe he just was pressing. In any case his production was sorely needed as the Coyotes were fighting for their playoff lives.
While Keller may enjoy living the desert, he definitely didn’t like going into a scoreless drought over a crucial four-game round trip where he only tallied one goal. The Yotes lost all four games, albeit gathering just one point against the New Jersey Devils in a shootout loss. Even in a more pivotal game versus the eventual wild-card finalist Colorado Avalanche on March 29, 2019, Keller’s name wasn’t on the scorecard.
This had to be tough for the youngster. There is no more adept student of the game than Keller according to his head coach Rick Tocchet. The kid will watch endless video to help him improve his game and get some insight as how to get better.
2019-20 Season For Clayton Keller Should be Great
Even with the disappointment of last season, Keller has got to be one of the key players to watch this next season. When the team added star forward Phil Kessel in the end of June, Clayton Keller had to be smiling from ear-to-ear. Adding Kessel and having Schmaltz back will give the Coyotes some offensive thrust to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Projecting a forward line of Schmaltz, Kessel and Keller has got to improve the meager goal scoring ability the team lacked for some time now. Even if Keller is not on the same line as Kessel, he will certainly be out there for the power play.
Kessel can put the puck in the net and Keller can be the perfect player to set him up. Hopefully Tocchet will try the trio out together just to see how dominating they can be. Keller has already displayed chemistry with Stepan so he could be lined up there.
In any case, the outlook for Clayton Keller looks stellar. He has the abilities to excel in the NHL and perhaps hit that 70-point plateau reserved for stars of the league. He certainly has to be motivated to excel this coming season. It will be the last year of his entry-level contract and he will be playing to impress.
So, Clayton Keller show us what you’ve got!