ST. LOUIS - It's been a whirlwind week for Swansea, Illinois native Clayton Keller. On Saturday, his first season at Boston University ended in disappointment with a 3-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth, effectively ending his chance to play in the NCAA's Frozen Four. On Sunday, he was on a plane bound for St. Louis, where the Arizona Coyotes were practicing in preparation for tonight's 7 p.m. game against the St. Louis Blues (FSMW, KMOX).
On Monday, Keller was at Scottrade Center, where he signed his first professional contract in the Sub Zero Vodka Bar Club outside the Blues' locker room.
Tonight, he will be in the lineup against his hometown Blues.
"My grandpa and dad took me to games here (at Scottrade Center) when I was real little, and I always said how much I liked it and that I'm going to be out there one day," Keller told ArizonaCoyotes.com. "It will be really special to make my debut here and I'm looking forward to it."
Keller first laced up the skates at the U.S. Ice Sports Complex in Fairview Heights, IL. He also played for former Blue Jeff Brown with the AAA Blues and was one of five St. Louis natives selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft last summer.
Video: Swansea's Clayton Keller prepares for NHL debut
"We're really proud," said Blues Assistant Equipment Manager Chad O'Neil, who is Keller's cousin. "It's a pretty special day for the whole family because we watched him develop as he grew up. It's going to be fun."
O'Neil says Keller has become a skilled playmaking forward with a high hockey IQ.
Keller will become the second St. Louisan from the 2016 NHL Draft to play in the NHL. Two days ago, the Blues went head-to-head against the first one: Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames.
"I've heard he's a creative player, that he has a lot of skill. Certainly we'll be aware," Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo said of Keller. "We'll watch the morning skate to see where he factors into the lineup, see if he works on the power play, but otherwise our approach doesn't really change. We treat him like we treat any skilled player, and that's making sure we're focused on our game and what we need to do."
BIG WEEK AHEAD
By gaining a point in Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Flames, the Blues actually lost ground in the standings thanks to Nashville's dominant win against the San Jose Sharks.
Tonight, the Blues could take third place in the Central Division back from the Predators with a win against the Coyotes (and a Nashville loss in any fashion to the Islanders).
Regardless of how the standings shake out tonight, the Blues know this is a big week, with games on the road against Arizona and Colorado before a pivotal divisional matchup with the Nashville Predators on Sunday afternoon.
"Since I took over, we haven't spent any time talking about standings, maybe just a brief mention of it here or there," said Yeo. "Certainly everyone is aware (of what's at stake). This is a group that cares, a group that obviously for a number of years has had a lot of success in making the playoffs. You don't do that without a strong commitment from the players."
The Blues will be looking for their 10th consecutive win tonight against the Coyotes. They won the first meeting of the season last Saturday when Alex Pietrangelo, Scottie Upshall and David Perron scored in a 3-0 victory.
- Nail Yakupov will play in his third straight game after finding a home on a line with Zach Sanford and Ivan Barbashev. Yakupov has assists in back-to-back games.
- Jake Allen is 6-0-0 in his career against the Coyotes, posting a 1.00 goals-against average, a .962 save-percentage and two shutouts.
- Perron's next goal will be his 100th as a Blue.
- Barbashev has points in three straight games, scoring one goal and two assists.