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Coyotes Select Keller, Chychrun in First Round

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Coyotes drafted center Clayton Keller with the seventh overall pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft at the First Niagara Center on Friday night. Soon after that, Arizona made a trade with Detroit to acquire the 16th overall pick and used it on defenseman Jakob Chychrun.

"It's just awesome to be a part of such a great organization," Keller said. "I'm just so thankful to be picked by them, and just really excited and ready to get started."

Keller, who is from Swansea, Ill., is a product of the U.S. National Team Development Program. He said he was surprised the Coyotes selected him so early in the draft.

"I had a good meeting with them during the Combine, and we had good talks and just getting to know each other," Keller said. "Yeah, I was a little shocked, but I'm just so thankful to be picked."

Clayton Keller. Photo by Getty Images.
Because of his lack of size, Keller (5-foot-10, 163 pounds) relies on his skill set to create offense for himself and others. He models his game after Patrick Kane, another diminutive American who won the NHL’s Hart Trophy earlier this week as the League’s Most Valuable Player.

Pundits suggest that if Keller, who was ranked ninth among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, were a few inches taller and twenty pounds heavier he would have been selected within the top five picks of the draft.

"I think that's probably the biggest thing for me is just getting stronger and putting on a couple pounds," Keller said. "I think that's what can make me a dominant player in the NHL some day."

He added, "I've always been a smaller guy, so I think I've always had to prove myself, and just my hockey IQ and my skills are at another level. I try to compare my game to Patrick Kane. He's probably the same height as me, and I think I can be as good as him one day."

In 62 games with the USNTDP’s Under-18 squad last season, Keller notched 107 points (37 goals, 70 assists). That’s the second-highest single-season total in team history; Auston Matthews produced 117 in 2014-15. Keller’s total of 70 assists in 2015-16 established a USNTDP single-season record.

"He's a special player," Coyotes General Manager John Chayka said. "He's a dynamic, play-making, skilled center that's going to be exciting for fans to watch for a long time. He makes players better. He's a possession style player who creates time and space. He's a guy, at that point (in the draft), that we couldn't pass up. He's just too good."

Chayka said the Coyotes are not concerned by Keller's lack of size.

"He's so smart and uses his body so well to create time and space, and doesn't get hit," Chayka said. "You look at Patrick Kane and Johnny Gaudreau, players like that, that's the type of material we think this kid has."

Keller has committed to play for Boston University next season.

Before heading to the USNDTP, Keller totaled 129 points (58 goals and 71 assists) in just 60 games playing for Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep School in 2012-13. That’s the same Minnesota school that produced NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews.

Keller’s best friend is Logan Brown, a forward who plays for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. Should Keller opt not to attend Boston University this fall and play junior jockey instead, Windsor is the team that owns his rights.

Former Coyotes captain Keith Tkachuk is among one of Keller’s former coaches from his days as a youth hockey player in the St. Louis area.

Jakob Chychrun
To get the 16th pick, the Coyotes sent the team’s 20th overall pick and 53rd overall pick in this year's draft, plus forward Joe Vitale, to the Detroit Red Wings. Arizona also acquired Pavel Datsyuk's contract in the deal.

"To have a team trade up to get you is really special and something that I'm very proud of," Chychrun said.

Chychrun played junior hockey for Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League and he said he believes it has prepared him well for the NHL.

"I think I can play in the National Hockey League next year," Chychrun said. "I've always believed in what I bring to the table and what I can do."

Chychrun's father, Jeff Chychrun, played 262 career NHL games as a defenseman with the Flyers, Kings, Penguins and Oilers. He was Jakob's couch in youth hockey in Boca Raton, Fla.

"Arizona was a team I really wanted to go to," Chychrun said. "Growing up in Boca Raton, it's awesome to be going to another southern market."

Chayka was thrilled Chychrun still was available after the first 15 picks and that's why he decided to trade for the 16th pick.

“He’s a great skater, a smart player," Chayka said. "He makes a good first pass and he’s got a real hard shot, but I think his feet are his greatest attribute."

He added, "If I get a left-shot defenseman with the ability and size Jakob Chychrun has, I don’t find those in the free-agent market. To me, that’s the better use of resources than any free-agent signing."

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