Coyotes’ Clayton Keller playing with poise, leads NHL rookies in goals
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Today’s NHL has become so much about youth, skill and speed that it’s nearly becoming a cliche.
Listen to NHL pundits discuss the league, and all eyes are on the youngsters — the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid, Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews and the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak, just to name a few.
The Coyotes are likely hoping 19-year-old rookie Clayton Keller can join the club of elite young talent.
“Clayton is, what is he, a 19, 20-year-old?” head coach Rick Tocchet said Thursday. “He’s going against — (Dallas Stars forward) Jamie Benn’s a hell of a player — this is a learning process and Clayton delivered. He did a nice job.”
Tocchet was also complimentary of Keller’s performance against the Stars on Tuesday. But on Thursday night, Keller looked even more comfortable than ever in his short tenure in the NHL so far. The Boston University alumnus had two goals, an assist, a shot that beat goalie Ben Bishop but rang off the crossbar and a play in which he set up Derek Stepan for a near-goal.
On the latter of those plays, Dallas was beginning to move the puck out of their own zone when Keller jumped right into a short passing lane along the boards to swipe the puck away.
His pair of tallies on Thursday put him in the NHL lead among rookies for goals (5) and tied for second in points (7). It helps that he’s playing on a top line with Stepan and Max Domi, but Keller nonetheless seems to have a knack for generating offense.
When asked about the success of his line, Keller kept his head down and explained what he thought he could do better. He said if they can do some things right, “the offense will take care of itself.”
Stepan opened up a little more about it.
“It’s funny how things work sometimes, you just kind of mold together quickly,” he said Thursday. “Max and Clayton just work so well together and I’ve just kind of found a little hole in between them. We work well on the ice, we cover a lot of the ice and I thought we won a lot of battles tonight as a line.”
The Domi-Stepan-Keller line had four goals between them on Thursday.
Having drawn comparisons to Patrick Kane, Keller was the No. 7 overall pick by the Coyotes in the 2016 draft. There’s no certainty yet for what Keller will become, but his performance so far has shown why he could be one of the names rattled off some day when people talk about the 2016 draft class — one that also includes Matthews, Patrik Laine, Tyson Jost and Charlie McAvoy (and for good measure, Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun).
He just needs to keep up the good work.
The Coyotes are still winless on the 2017 season and face one of the toughest parts of their schedule. On Saturday, they host the Chicago Blackhawks (4-2-2) before going on a five-game East Coast road trip.
Entering Friday, the ‘Hawks have the fourth-most goals scored in the NHL through eight games played. They have 28 on the season, including 10 on opening night against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Chicago also has the eighth-best penalty kill in the league at 83.3 percent.
Puck drop for Saturday’s tilt is slated for 6 p.m. at Gila River Arena.
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