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Clayton Keller a bright spot in Coyotes’ sluggish start

Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller reacts after scoring a second-period goal against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes weren’t in the mood to discuss positives after a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday at Gila River Arena. They lost starting goalie Antti Raanta after the first period with a lower-body injury, and they dropped to 0-3-1, the worst record in the Western Conference in this young NHL season.

That said, it’s hard to ignore the impact Clayton Keller is making on this team.

The rookie forward scored a pair of goals against the Red Wings and he could have had three more with the chances he was generating alongside Max Domi and Derek Stepan.

“He’s got a nose for the puck,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “He’s not scared. He’s still learning as he goes, but he almost got one at the end. He almost got three goals. Two goals tonight and I thought he did a nice job.”

Keller’s three goals and 15 shots this season are tied for second among NHL rookies. His four points are tied for third. His average ice time (20:29) leads all rookies.

He was on virtually every media outlet’s list of Calder Trophy candidates at the start of the season and he has done nothing to diminish those expectations. He finished tied for third in the NHL with eight preseason points and against the Wings he had at least five scoring chances.

He squirted a puck across the crease on an early chance.

He overskated a chance off a Stepan rebound in the third period, but the most frustrating miss came late in the third period with the score tied 2-2 and the Coyotes on a power play. Keller corralled a loose puck on his backhand, spun around and sent a wrist shot just inside the near post.

Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard got his right pad on the puck to make a save, Dylan Larkin fed Luke Glendening for a shorthanded goal at the other end and the Coyotes were on the losing end for the fourth time this season.

“It’s tough to swallow,” Keller said. “It’s tough to lose like that, especially late there when we were all over them and then we kind of let one in there late.

“I kind of spun so I couldn’t really see, but yeah, he made a good save so props to him.”

The Coyotes have never had a player win rookie of the year. Keller looks like he’ll be in the running to change that. More importantly, he is providing the kind of dynamic presence the team envisioned when it selected him with the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

The Coyotes need a few more players to join him.

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