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Trophy Tracker

Keller dominating Calder Trophy field

Coyotes forward unanimous pick by panel as top rookie at quarter mark of season

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

To mark the completion of the first quarter of the season, which arrives Tuesday, is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Calder Trophy.

In a season of disappointment for the Arizona Coyotes, forward Clayton Keller has been a consistent bright spot.

The Coyotes have struggled to earn victories this season and are at the bottom of the NHL standings, but Keller (5-foot-10, 168 pounds) has produced while playing big minutes in a top-six role. He presents a challenge for coaches attempting to limit his scoring chances because he plays the game at such a high pace, with and without the puck, forcing opponents to commit first when trying to defend.

It's at that point when Keller goes on the offensive attack.

Video: ARI@WSH: Keller steals puck and buries wrister

"He's got a knack for the net," Coyotes center Derek Stepan said. "You always talk about good players and how the puck follows them, and he's one of those guys. I think that's a rare talent. That takes a talented player to elite (status)."

Keller is one point behind New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal among NHL rookies with 18 points (11 goals, seven assists) in 22 games. He leads all rookies in shots on goal (71) and rookie forwards in average ice time (19:28), and the Coyotes control 49.10 percent of all shots attempted when he's on the ice.

"There hasn't been a time where he's really been out of it, doing stuff that we don't want him to do," coach Rick Tocchet said. "He'll make a mistake but when we tell him, he seems to correct it. Everyone is going to make mistakes, it's what you do after the mistake that you really judge a player on."

A panel of 18 staff members voted for the winners of each major award after the first quarter of the season. Keller was the unanimous choice as NHL rookie of the year, named No. 1 on all 18 ballots (90 points), the only unanimous pick among the five award votes. Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser was second in Calder voting with 43 points, forwards Barzal and Nico Hischier of the New Jersey Devils finished tied for third with 33 points, and Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy was fifth with 21 points.

Keller has ignored the talk surrounding his chances of winning the Calder Trophy. A few media outlets have even nicknamed him, "Clayton Calder."

"I think I'm just more focused on our team; my play will take care of itself," he said.

Video: CAR@ARI: Keller dances around Darling to score in SO

Keller's start to the season is statistically better than the one 2017 Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews produced with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, had 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) and averaged 17:20 of ice time in his first 21 games; he finished with 69 points (40 goals, 29 assists) in 82 games. Keller was selected at No. 7 in 2016. He had two assists in three games with Arizona last season.

"To turn this thing around we've got to develop a bit of a swagger and an inner confidence and belief in what we're doing, and [Keller] is a guy who has a lot of confidence," Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. "He's bordering on cocky at times but he's very respectful, hard-working, and very well-liked. You need confidence in order to have success and our team needs to develop it. He's got it."

Boeser, 20, is having similar success for the Canucks. He's third among NHL rookies with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) while averaging 15:58 of ice time in 17 games.

He became the youngest player in Canucks history to have a hat trick in nearly 27 years when he scored three times in a 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 4. Trevor Linden scored three times as a 20-year-old on Dec. 20, 1990.

Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes, 90 points (18 first-place votes); Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks, 43 points; Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils, 33 points; Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders, 33 points; Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins, 21 points; Will Butcher, New Jersey Devils, 20 points; Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning, 13 points; Alexander Kerfoot, Colorado Avalanche, 7 points; Charlie Lindgren, Montreal Canadiens, 4 points; Yanni Gourde, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2 points; Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings, 2 points; Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks, 1 point; Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils, 1 point

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