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Keller Determined to Stick with Coyotes This Season

Prospect Clayton Keller is confident he's ready to be an NHLer

by Dave McCarthy @DaveAMcCarthy ‏ / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- Coyotes forward Clayton Keller played three games in NHL last season, getting two assists while averaging 12:40 of ice time. 

But for Keller, 19, that wasn't enough, and he's determined to be a major factor with the Coyotes this season.

"Definitely, there's no other option for me. I'm going to play with the big club," Keller said at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase on Monday. "That's what I worked for all summer, I just have to go out there now and do what I do. I want to have an impact right away. I don't want to just be there to be there. I want to have an impact right away, so that's one of my goals.

Keller accomplished that in his one season at Boston University, leading the Terriers in points (45) and goals (21) and tying for the team lead in assists (24) before turning pro with three years of eligibility left.

"I just felt like it was the right decision for me after the season was over," Keller said. "I thought about it and felt like it was the right thing to do."

He said he his NHL experience, despite being three games, was invaluable.

"It was awesome," he said. "It was great to play those few games, it really helped me and showed me how hard I had to work this summer. I'm really looking forward to the season." 

What was the biggest thing that stood out to Keller in the League compared to the style of play at the NCAA level? 

"It's just a lot faster, I think, and there's no bad players," he said. "Everyone is skilled, fast and a smart hockey player. That's the main thing that I noticed."

Keller has a tall task ahead of him to reach the bar set by an incredible crop of rookies last season. Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, had 69 points (40 goals, 29 assists) in 82 games and won the Calder Trophy. Though they did not train together over the summer, Keller, drafted six spots behind Matthews in 2016, said he considers Matthews a good friend. The two played a few rounds of golf together and though they kept talk about hockey to a minimum, Keller said he feels comfortable asking Matthews for advice.

"I know some people like myself get motivated from those guys having such success," Keller said. "Auston's a great player and I know him pretty well, so it's good to have a friend like that and to be able to talk to him and ask him about the NHL."

Much like Matthews, Keller's success will be determined by whether he is able to carry the offensive ability he has shown at lower levels into the League. To get that chance from coach Rick Tocchet, Keller said he must be reliable defensively as well.

"I think everyone hopes to get faster and stronger," Keller said. "My defensive side of the game, I'm a skilled guy but I need to keep that responsibility up and know that taking care of both sides of the puck is important." 

The Coyotes were 30-42-10 last season, finishing sixth in the Pacific Division and missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Though making the playoffs in a difficult division this season is far from a guarantee, Keller is hoping the Coyotes' young core, including forwards Max Domi (22), Christian Dvorak (21), Brendan Perlini (21), Lawson Crouse (20) and defenseman Jakob Chychrun (19) -- who might miss the start of the season after knee surgery Aug. 3 -- can help propel them to the next level.

"It's real special that we're all kind of younger and can really go through the hard times together, which I think can help us in the long run," Keller said. "Obviously we've got a lot of guys with skill and lot of our guys are great players."

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