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Clayton Keller finding ‘second wind’ as Coyotes’ standout rookie

Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller (9) scores against Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jack Campbell (1) during a shootout of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Kings 4-3. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Clayton Keller was on a tear in October. He seems to be doing well in March, too.

The in-between didn’t have the headline-making, goal-scoring performances that earned Keller the Rookie of the Month honors in his first month in the league with nine goals and 15 points. But after tallying 12 points total in the months of January and February, Keller already has six points in seven March contests.

One of those six points was a goal that he scored on Tuesday night, marking the Coyotes’ first of the game in a win against the LA Kings and Keller’s second goal in four games.

“We know how great he played at the start of the year,” Coyotes assistant coach John MacLean said, filling in as the team’s head coach as Rick Tocchet takes a leave of absence. “Like any young guy, you’re going to hit a little bit of a wall every once in a while. But you know what, Clayton’s a fun kid to watch. I know Toc’ talks about a ‘hockey nerd,’ he’s always looking at you to go out on the ice.

“He gets mad, he gets frustrated, but he always wants to do well.”

Don’t look now, but Keller might have his swagger back.

The 19-year-old began the year as one of the top Calder Trophy favorites, though the New York Islanders’ Mat Barzal has all but run away with that race with less than a month to go in the year. But the Boston University product is fourth among NHL rookies in points scored as the Coyotes have 13 games to go.

And even still, the Coyotes aren’t evaluating Keller based on whether he’ll collect accolades in his rookie season. They’ll evaluate him based on what they see from him on the ice, and on Tuesday night, the Coyotes and their fans saw Keller take a pass from Derek Stepan in space to the right of the net and fire a shot past Jack Campbell to give Arizona a 1-0 lead.

He also scored later in the shootout.

“He’s going to be a great player in this league,” MacLean said. “He’s continuing to play extremely well right now. I think he found his second wind, understanding what it takes night-in, night-out. If he keeps that — which I think he will, his work ethic and the type of kid he is — he’s going to be a star in this league.”

With his goal Tuesday, he became the third rookie in team history to reach the 50-point mark when he scored his 19th goal of the season on Tuesday night.

But of course, the humble Keller said the 50-point milestone wasn’t meaningful to him.

“I think we’re playing well,” Keller said. “Focus on the team, we’re winning hockey games, so that’s the best thing.”

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