GLENDALE - Clayton Keller's time with the Coyotes this season was brief, but invaluable.
Keller played in three games for Arizona, which chose him seventh overall at the 2016 NHL Draft, and notched two assists.
"It was a great experience for me to be with the team for the last two weeks of the season," said Keller, who signed with the Coyotes on March 26, a few hours after completing his freshman season at Boston University. "I was just trying to learn as much as I could and follow the older guys and see how they prepared and took care of their bodies. I think it's going to really help me out at the beginning of next year. I'll have the advantage of having played those three games and having been around the guys a little bit. I won't be so nervous going into camp."
Keller, an 18-year-old forward, averaged 17 shifts per game in his three games, and with each one he felt more comfortable.
"I thought he got better every game," General Manager John Chayka said. "His last game was his most comfortable. I think he saw kind of a light bulb go off, and he felt like 'Hey, I can make plays at this level.'"
Keller led Boston University with 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in 31 games and led BU to the NCAA Tournament. During the season, he also led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship by scoring the third most points (11) in the tournament.
The highlight of his season, however, came when he made his NHL debut on March 27 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, not far from where he grew up in Illinois. He didn't get his name in the scoring summary that night, but he did in his next game, in his home debut, again against St. Louis.
"It was cool to play a home game," Keller said. "That's where I will be playing hopefully for a long time, so it was good to get that experience out of the way. Now I know what it's like and I got to see how everything works there on a game day."
The Coyotes have asked Keller to train hard this summer and improve his strength. He's on board with that strategy and plans to work out in Arizona. But first, he'll compete for Team USA at the IIHF World Championship in France/Germany next month.
"I'm really excited," Keller said. "It should be a great tournament and a lot of fun. We have a lot of skill on our team. Plus I'll be there with some guys I know (teammates Connor Murphy and Christian Dvorak) and that definitely helps and makes you feel more comfortable. It's unbelievable playing for USA Hockey. It's so exciting when you throw that USA jersey on. It never gets old."
Keller watched the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs closely. He saw some young teams perform well and figures the Coyotes can do the same in years to come.
"I think we can definitely be a successful team," Keller said. "We're a little young now, but once everyone gets more comfortable playing in the NHL I think everything else will take care of itself on the ice. You see younger teams like Toronto and Edmonton having success. Hopefully we can accomplish what they've done."
Chayka said he thinks Keller will play a key role in helping the Coyotes reach the next level.
"It goes back to you need game breakers in this League, you need guys that can make a difference," Chayka said. "He's a guy that has special talent … We expect him to be a real impact player next year."