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Young Coyotes players address grind of NHL season

Heading into the 2017-18 season, the Coyotes were the third youngest team in the NHL with 12 players age 25 or younger. (Photo by Luke Wright/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The NHL season is an 82-game grind for even the most experienced players, but for the younger ones who have never played a full season, it is an even more grueling labor.

The Arizona Coyotes know that better than most in the league. Having a team filled with youth, they experienced unique challenges over the course of the season. For some of their young players, this year has been about getting comfortable in the NHL and getting accustomed to playing so many games.

Rookie Clayton Keller, who turns 20 in July, admitted to hitting a wall halfway through the season and is learning how to handle finishing at a high level.

“It’s definitely a long season. I haven’t played this many games in a season in my life before,” Keller said. “But these last 20 games I really felt energized and up for every game. I think when you get the right amount of sleep and rest it helps you out in games.”

The Coyotes finished with the worst record in the Western Conference (24-41-12), in large part due to the inexperience on their squad from rebuilding their roster. Heading into the 2017-2018 season, the Coyotes were the third youngest team in the NHL. They have 12 players age 25 or younger and only four players 30 or older.

When a team is made up of such young players, and victories come sparingly, developing talent for the future becomes a priority.. Brendan Perlini, who turns 22 at the end of the month and is finishing his sophomore season, thinks that in order to get through such a long grind that you have to set personal goals for yourself.

“It’s a constant process of trying to get better every day,” Perlini said, “staying motivated and figuring out your goals for each year and hit them.”

With the departure of longtime captain Shane Doan there was a void left in veteran leadership, but if you asked the rookies they wouldn’t have noticed a thing.

Christian Fischer and Keller talked about how the older players have been great to work with and have helped them with anything they could think of, both on and off the ice.

“He (Oliver Ekman-Larsson) knows everything,” Fischer said, “It could be as simple as knowing a good place to eat. You can ask anyone for a helping hand and they will help you.”

Keller and Perlini have received their fair share of advice from the veterans and they each have taken different suggestions to heart.

Keller thinks the best advice he was given is to “always come to the rink and want to get better.”

Perlini, on the other hand, thinks the best piece of advice is something Doan told him last year: “Just enjoy it because it flies by.”

The Arizona Coyotes are in the middle of a rebuild and will need all their players to keep developing if they want to become a winning organization. In order for that to happen, young players like Keller, Perlini and Fischer will have to step up and flourish going forward.

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