‘Unbelievable’: Coyotes’ top pick on draft, new team
It was just months ago that Clayton Keller was playing at Gila River Arena with the US National U-18 Team against Arizona State University. Now, Keller is a prospect for the team that calls that arena home.
On June 24, the Coyotes selected the USNTDP center seventh overall in the NHL Draft. Keller called it “unbelievable.”
“It’s really something that you dream about,” he said in an interview on Bickley & Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday. “Before the draft, I think you have an idea but you really never know where you’re going to go. I thought all along I was a top ten pick, but I just didn’t know where.”
The Coyotes, who tout several skilled forwards among their top prospects, were expected to take a defenseman with their first pick. Instead, the team went with another forward in Keller.
“I think this organization is moving into fast and skilled and speed and I think that’s the way that hockey is played now,” he said. “I think that’s great for the team and I’m just really thankful to be picked by them.”
Keller would fit well into an organization looking for skill and speed; though only 5-foot-10 and 168 pounds, the 17-year-old scored 37 goals and 107 points last season for the USNTDP. His career 189 points for that team are an all-time record, ahead of now-stars Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel.
He has even drawn comparisons to Kane, who is now a forward for the Chicago Blackhawks.
“He’s definitely someone that I like to compare myself to,” Keller said. “He’s not the biggest guy and neither am I. I think do a lot of what he does, just with hockey IQ and the passing and the ability to make players around him better… I embrace being compared to him.”
This week, the highly-regarded prospect got to showcase his skills. Keller joined other Coyotes hopefuls at Prospect Development Camp, taking the ice once again at Gila River Arena.
“It’s pretty cool. Being at my first NHL camp is awesome,” he said. “I just try to soak it all in and learn from the older guys who have been here for the past years and see how they prepare, and also learn a lot from the coaches and what they expect from you, just little things like that.”
Keller is committed to Boston University, where he says he’ll play next season and try to get stronger. In the meantime, he must finish development camp, the first step in his newfound life as a top NHL draft pick.