Coyotes’ Tourigny: Keller’s next career step is sustaining high level of play

Dec 8, 2021, 6:39 PM | Updated: 9:18 pm

Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller (9) skates against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the thi...

Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller (9) skates against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

There’s no way to hide the Arizona Coyotes’ struggles on the 2021-22 campaign.

Following an offseason that saw a plethora of roster moves and a head coaching change, the team is having difficulty garnering points after its move to the Central Division.

However, one bright spot recently has been the play of 23-year-old right wing Clayton Keller.

In his last nine games for Arizona, the RW has amassed 11 points on three goals and eight assists.

“His all-around game is even better than his numbers I think,” head coach Andre Tourigny told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Wednesday. “He competes really hard defensively; he strips guys; he defends really, really well; he brings a lot of energy to the team.

“His body language, positive attitude and competitiveness have brought a lot of leadership to our team as well. … I’m really happy and proud of him to put the effort in. He’s a very, very competitive person.”

Keller was named to the NHL All-Rookie team in 2017-18 and finished third for the Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year) after playing in all 82 games and finishing with a career high in points (65), goals (23) and assists (42).

But the 23-year-old hasn’t been able to sustain quite as high of a level of play over the last few years, and Tourigny is hoping the Coyotes’ No. 7 overall pick in 2016 is ready to take that next step.

“Having a good stretch of 10-15 games in the NHL is great. Sustaining it is the biggest challenge,” the head coach said. “A good player can be great for a certain time. But if you want to be great all the time you need to sustain it.

“Kells is doing really good and we want to sustain that. … A lot of guys in every sport have been good for a month or two months. But can you be good every day for the rest of your career? That’s what Kells will have to do. And he will have tough games. He will have games that won’t be that good. That’s just human nature. But having the same competitive attitude, that’s fantastic.”

In an eight-game stint from Nov. 16-29, the Coyotes picked up four of their five wins on the year by going 4-3-1.

Keller played in seven of those contests, but picked up seven points on two goals and five assists along the way.

Three of those four victories game via one-goal nail-biters on the road over the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets.

And amidst the Coyotes’ last 10 games, six have been decided by one goal and three have gone to overtime or a shootout.

“We’re really happy with our team in terms of effort, in terms of showing up every night and really competing for every inch of the ice,” Tourigny said. “If we look at our schedule, we had a few games where a few performances where we weren’t happy but we can find those games, so it’s not like it’s a trend. So we’re happy about that.

“The other part I think we’ve improved is making a tight game every night. Early in the season we had a tough time, we got much better, we had a good winning streak at one point. We’re happy about the progression. We’re obviously not happy with the results. We’re looking to win more games on a consistent basis and offer a really good performance in front of our fans.”

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