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Keller Learned Lessons in Sophomore Season

Clayton Keller will play for Team USA at 2019 IIHF World Championship

by Dave Vest @davest4yotes / Coyotes Sr. Director of News Content

GLENDALE -- Clayton Keller is closely watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs because he's confident the Coyotes will be a participant soon. 

"I've watched them since I was five years old," Keller told reporters recently, before leaving Arizona for the off-season. "I think you can learn stuff just by watching playoff-style hockey games. That's where we want to be." 

The Coyotes missed the postseason by just four points in 2018-19. Keller, an NHL sophomore, led the team in points (47) and assists (33) for the second year in a row. As he did as a rookie, Keller played in all 82 games. 

"I'm proud of myself," said Keller, who represented the Coyotes at the 2019 NHL All-Star Game. "It's a long season, 82 games, and I think I learned a lot this year. I watched a lot of video, got a lot better in practice, got a lot better in games. Every year you learn so much. It was a good year ... The second year is always hard, especially when you have a good first year. Teams know what to expect (of you), so I think this summer is a big summer for me. I'm just going to work hard and go from there." 

Keller notched 65 points as a freshman, and was one of three finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy. As a sophomore, opponents focused more on shutting him down. 

"When you look at second years in the league, across the board, it's difficult," General Manager John Chayka said. "I think it's really on us as an organization to continue to work with Clayton, develop Clayton, put him in situations to have success. He's got a big summer ahead of him ... I think he learned a lot about himself and a lot about the game this year and that'll make him stronger ... He's got to adjust, he's got to adapt, he's got to evolve. He's got to find new ways to create offense. That's not unique to Clayton, that's every offensive player."

Video: Keller Explains Challenges Faced In Second Season

Keller produced a six-game point streak early in the season and set a Coyotes record when he notched his 100th NHL point in his 132nd NHL game vs. Pittsburgh on Jan. 18.

"He's a big, core piece of what we're trying to do here," Chayka said "... We lean heavily on Clayton, and some of that's fair, maybe some of that's unfair based off of his youth and inexperience, but we really believe in him and think that he's the guy that can make a huge impact on this organization, short-term and long-term."

Keller enjoyed playing on a line with newcomer Nick Schmaltz, whose season with Arizona was limited to 17 games because of a lower-body injury. Keller notched 15 points in the games Schmaltz played after the Coyotes acquired him from Chicago on Nov. 25. The chemistry between them was palpable. 

"He has high-end skill and sees the game really well," Schmaltz said of Keller. "That makes it easy to play with (him). I think we can work off each other really well."

Keller, who played on a line with Schmaltz for Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, agreed.

"Nick Schmaltz and me were great together," Keller said. "He's a really skilled player and a lot of fun to play with. It sucks that he got injured, but you can't really think about it at the time, you've just got to keep moving forward and do everything you can to help the team win."

Although they didn't reach the playoffs this season, Keller and his teammates gained valuable experience from making a late-season charge up the standings. He said it will help them take the next step, perhaps as soon as next season.

"It's great that we got so close to it and kind of had meaningful games over the last month of the season," Keller said. "Every game was almost like it was our last one and we had to win ... I think we had a lot of guys step up and play huge games and score big goals for us. It's definitely motivating for next year. We want to be in the playoffs and we want to win."

Keller plans to train for next season with some teammates and other NHLers here in Arizona. He wants to add some pounds and get stronger. First up, he'll compete for Team USA again at this year's IIHF World Championship in Slovakia, which starts May 10. 

"I've been lucky not to have any injuries, which is nice, but I'm going to continue to take care of my body in the summer and make sure that it stays that way," Keller said. "I (also) want to work on my skills - my stickhandling, shooting - all the little things I've always done to give me that extra step on everyone else."

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