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Coyotes sign Clayton Keller to 3-year, entry-level deal

Clayton Keller, seventh overall pick, is given a hat as he stands on stage with members of the Arizona Coyotes management team at the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 24, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Coyotes are bringing in one of their most promising prospects a little ahead of schedule. Boston University freshman forward Clayton Keller signed a three-year entry-level deal on Sunday, one day after the Terriers were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament with a 3-2 loss to Minnesota Duluth in the quarterfinals.

“We are extremely pleased to sign Clayton to an entry-level contract,” Coyotes GM John Chayka said in a release. “Clayton is a highly skilled, dynamic forward. He is a strong skater who has a powerful shot and great hockey sense. We are excited to have him join our team and finish the regular season with the Coyotes.”

Keller reported to St. Louis on Sunday, near his hometown of Swansea, Illinois, and took the ice for practice. The Coyotes’ are set to complete their five-game road trip against the Blues on Monday. Keller could play.

“It’s probably been a whirlwind couple days for him,” coach Dave Tippett said. “Hopefully, he gets the fatigue out of him today, gets a good rest tonight and he’ll be ready to go tomorrow. The hope is he’s ready to go tomorrow.”

Keller, 18, led the Terriers with 21 goals and 45 points in 31 games this season. Had BU won Saturday’s game, it would have advanced to the Frozen Four in Chicago, with game dates set for April 6 and April 8. That would have made it unlikely, or impossible for Keller to join the Coyotes this season because Arizona’s season ends on April 8.

“I think it’s great that they’re letting me get a few games and see how I do,” Keller said. “It can really help me for next year, just getting used to the pace and the lifestyle and how everyone takes care of themselves.”

The Coyotes selected Keller with the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Because there are fewer than 10 games remaining in the season, Keller will not burn the first year of his contract this season. The contract will kick in next year, assuming he makes the team.

A dynamic playmaker, Keller can play all three forward positions with most of his time spent at center or left wing, where he played during Team USA’s run to the gold medal at the World Junior Championship. Keller led the Americans with 11 points (three goals).

“His vision is probably his biggest strength, along with his hockey IQ,” Coyotes director of player development Steve Sullivan said. “He just executes high-end plays. That’s probably the thing that stands out for me.

“He sees it develop with his eyes, he tries it and he executes it very well. He’s a fun player to watch and it’s a skill set that we’re looking forward to putting in the lineup.”

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