GLENDALE - Clayton Keller crammed a lot of hockey at various levels into the year after being picked by Arizona in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft.
Keller, whom the Coyotes snatched seventh overall, played for four different teams in 2016-17, including Arizona in the final week of the season. He hopes to play for just one team in 2017-18: the Coyotes.
"Being here for a few weeks last year showed me how hard you have to work to have an impact," Keller said. "The way you carry yourself, just looking people in the eye and little things like that, can go a long way."
Keller turned 19 years old last week. But don't let his age fool you. He's a very smart hockey player.
"Clayton's vision allows him to make plays that other players might not try," said Steve Sullivan, Arizona's Assistant General Manager. "He sees the ice and what is about to happen. It's a high hockey IQ."
Keller played three games, including his NHL debut in St. Louis just miles from his hometown, for the Coyotes at the end of last season. That came after he helped Boston University go deep into the NCAA Tournament, and Team USA win a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. After the NHL season, Keller played for Team USA again at the 2017 IIHF World Championship. He was the youngest player in the tournament, and notched the first hat trick by a Team USA player in four years.
"Every step was an unreal experience, reaching all the goals you set for yourself and being part of some incredible teams," Keller said. "You don't have much time to think about it while it's happening, but when it's all over … you take a step back and realize how special it was. Everything that happened was amazing, but winning a gold medal for your country and those memories of beating Canada are No. 1 on the list."
Keller has turned his attention to preparing for Arizona's training camp. He knows there are jobs available on the Coyotes roster - at center and at wing - and hopes to earn one. That's why he spent time training in the Valley earlier this summer, after the annual Prospect Development Camp, at which he shined. Keller plans to return to Arizona for more training next week. As part of his approach, he has been focusing on nutrition and increasing strength this summer.
Keller will serve as a leader for Arizona's entry into a rookie tournament hosted by the San Jose Sharks from Sept. 9-12, the week before Arizona's main training camp opens. With San Jose, Anaheim and Colorado also sending rookie teams to participate, it will be a nice tune-up for Keller before his first pro camp.
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Expectations are high for Keller within the hockey community. NHL.com, for instance, recently ranked him Arizona's No. 1 prospect heading into the season.
"In a perfect world, we want guys like Keller and Dylan Strome to make the team and have an opportunity to make an impact," Sullivan said. "You're talking about two key pieces of the organization who have excelled to this point. Now they are on brink of getting their chance to do it at the highest level."