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Coyote on The Rise: Keller's Coming of Age Postseason

Clayton Keller reflects on a productive playoff debut

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

Clayton Keller met playoff pressure with postseason production.

Keller, 22, led the Coyotes in tournament scoring with seven points and a team-high four goals. 

The third-year forward made his NHL debut March 2017 and since then leads the Coyotes in scoring. Keller has 158 points (54G, 104A) in 237 games.

That trend continued in Edmonton.

"It was the most fun hockey that I played in a long time," Keller said of the playoff run. "Some guys don't play in the playoffs until the end of their career, so I think it's a good step in the right direction for us young guys to experience it and take it with us down the road."

Keller was one of eight Coyotes to make a postseason debut. He found the score sheet in seven of nine playoff games.

"It was a great experience for our team and a step in the right direction," he added.

Keller recorded a point in every game of the qualifying round against the Predators. He became the second player in franchise history to score a goal in his first two postseason games and registered an assist on Conor Garland's game-winning goal in Game 3 and Jordan Oesterle's third-period go-ahead goal in Game 4.

Video: ARI@NSH, Gm1: Keller pots PPG from the slot

"I don't think there were many people that thought we were going to beat Nashville at all," Keller said. "It was definitely motivating for us players. You want to be at your best in the playoffs. I think it was a good experience for me. I think our team did a good job. It's just a matter of continuing to move forward and having fun."

Keller led the Coyotes with five multi-goal games this season and notched at least one point in 23 of the team's 33 regular-season victories. In February, he became the second-youngest player in franchise history to score 50 goals with the team. Only the late Dale Hawerchuk accomplished the feat at a younger age.

Head coach Rick Tocchet put Keller on the third-line to begin the playoffs. However, for most of the Colorado series, Keller was a staple on the first line. 

"This was a big thing for him to be in," Tocchet said. "That's why I'm so happy we got in, this experience, playing in those playoff games. I thought there were moments where he was really good. He did a nice job."

Tocchet was pleased with Keller's coming of age experience but stressed the importance of the off-season for the No. 7 selection in the 2016 draft. Tocchet hinted at Keller adding more muscle.

"He's got a ways to go," Tocchet said. "He knows it. He's got to get stronger. He's got to be more consistent. He's got to play on the inside. He scored some goals for us, and the next three months are big for him to get stronger, to see where he's at to get to the next level. This was a great experience for him, a great experience for him."

Keller says his training during the pause greatly helped his playoff performance.

"During the time off I was really focused," he said. "I did everything I could to be in the best shape that I could for the playoffs. I thought I was okay, but I feel like I still have a long way to go. I want to be playing best when I'm in the playoffs, and I think that was a great experience for me. Hopefully we can make the playoffs next year. I can do the same thing, and we can make a deeper run."

Keller plans to visit family outside St. Louis, soon, but his off-season plan is to remain mostly in Arizona for training and skating.

"I'm comfortable here in Arizona," he said. "I love living here. I also like to train here. So, I think it's a great spot for me to be."

Lead Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick - NHLI via Getty Images // Second Photo Credit: Dave Sandford - NHLI via Getty Images // Third Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick - NHLI via Getty Images // Fourth Photo Credit: Andy Devlin - NHLI via Getty Images // Footer Photo Credit: Andy Devlin - NHLI via Getty Images

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