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Coyotes’ Clayton Keller hopes to use final 7 games as springboard to next season

Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller (14) and St. Louis Blues right wing Scottie Upshall (10) battle for the loose puck in the second period during an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The level of play wasn’t the only upgrade Clayton Keller noticed when he reached the NHL. The accommodations are pretty sweet, too.

“It’s a nice hotel,” Keller said of the place he will call home for the rest of the regular season. “King-sized bed; little bit better than the twin I was in for a year at school so I’m happy.”

Keller’s home debut for the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday against his hometown team, the St. Louis Blues, was a nice distraction for fans from the arena and ownership dramas that seem to bloom like allergens this time of year. Keller had the second assist on Alex Goligoski’s third-period, power-play goal to earn his first NHL point in a 3-1 loss.

This was no fig leaf to the fans, however. When Keller took the ice in St. Louis on Monday for his NHL debut — two days after his Boston University Terriers were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament — he didn’t look like a fish out of water; a player unprepared for the rigors of the NHL game.

“He looks really young and [when] you see him on the bench, he looks really, really young,” coach Dave Tippett said, smiling, “but get him in the game and you take all that part out of it, he was a competitive player.

“His hockey IQ is really strong. I really watched what he did in the St. Louis game. It’s not just the plays. He’s competitive along the boards but it’s the reads he makes to be in the right position to structurally just be sound; be on top of a certain guy.

“The speed and the size of the game is much different. All young players have to get used to that, but he’s a smart player. I think you’ll see him get more comfortable and this experience at the end of the year I think will be excellent for him moving forward.”

Keller has played his first two games at left wing, but he said he played a fair amount of right wing at BU over the second half of the season.

“I can play left or center or right,” he said. “The first couple games [they] put me on the left wing so I’m on my forehand. When I get a little more comfortable maybe I can play right, which I also like.”

Tippett plans to fiddle with Keller’s usage over the final two weeks of the season, and Keller may get a rest at some point, given the rigorous schedule he has kept for the past week.

“We’ll feel him out a little bit, make sure we put him in positions where he feels comfortable,” Tippett said. “I see him more as a winger than a centerman but we’ll see how that goes from game to game.

“We hope he gets in some situations where he’s not comfortable because then he’s going to learn. Because we’re not in the playoff picture, we’re able to give some players like this some extra minutes, put him in situations like that.”

Keller hasn’t had time to acclimate to the Valley, or explore the local golf courses because he only arrived home late Monday night.

“I haven’t really got to go anywhere yet because I’ve been tired and just trying to settle in,” said Keller, who is finally coming to terms with the fact that he is in the NHL. “Obviously it’s a quick turnaround and everything kind of happened so fast. I think yesterday it kind of sunk in a little bit. It’s just such a special experience.”

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