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Rookie watch: Keller is bright spot for Coyotes

19-year-old's speed, scoring ability are major positives for winless team

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller realizes speed can get you only so far as a teenager in the NHL.

Although it certainly is a huge advantage to be able to sustain the pace and intensity while playing top-line minutes, Keller knows his ability to adjust in other areas will ultimately determine his future success.

"I'm an offensive player, trying to contribute every night, but there are things to work on, like getting pucks out of the defensive zone, finding the middle guy and doing everything I can to get him the puck," Keller said. "Also, staying on my guy at the point can really go a long way. It's no secret that offense in the NHL today is usually the result of a good breakout and offensive zone time."

Keller, 19, leads all NHL rookies with eight goals, 12 points and 43 shots on goal in 11 games. He ranks second among rookies in average ice time (19:54) and Arizona has controlled 51.01 percent of all shots attempted at 5-on-5 when he's been on the ice.

Keller said the fact he has earned the trust of his coach to lead all NHL rookie forwards in ice time has boosted his confidence and comfort level.

Video: ARI@NJD: Keller steals the puck then goes five-hole

"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."

The fact that the Coyotes (0-10-1) have yet to win a game hasn't deflated Keller's confidence. In fact, it drives him.

"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," 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."

Selected No. 7 by the Coyotes in the 2016 NHL Draft, Keller's maturity level seems to improve daily.

"This guy is unbelievable," forward Max Domi said. "He looks like a younger version of Patrick Kane out there."

Keller was ranked No. 9 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2016 draft.

"He plays the game at a high pace in all zones both with and without the puck and this puts pressure on his opponents to commit first when trying to defend him which he often takes advantage of," David Gregory of NHL Central Scouting said. "His ability to read the play on the fly allows him to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. He's a dynamic player that is worth the price of admission."

Video: ARI@NYR: Keller buries PPG on second opportunity

Keller signed an entry-level contract with the Coyotes on March 26 and played in three games late last season after scoring 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 29 games as a freshman at Boston University. He won the 2017 Tim Taylor Award as the best first-year player in NCAA Division I men's hockey.

"I like his swagger," Tocchet said. "I know it's early, but he's a big-time player. When the chips are down I can see him trying some plays that I see some high-end players try that I've coached and played against."

Keller said the fact that he has earned enough trust from his coach to lead all NHL rookie forwards in ice time has boosted his confidence and comfort level.

"It takes a lot for a coach to trust a 19-year-old," Keller said. "He always refers to things that Sidney Crosby did when he was coaching him in Pittsburgh; how he practiced and played, things like that."


Rookies on the rise

Oscar Dansk, G, Vegas Golden Knights (2012 Draft, No. 31, Columbus Blue Jackets): Dansk (6-3, 195), 23, is the third goalie used by the Golden Knights. He got the chance to play after Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) and Malcolm Subban (lower body) were injured. Dansk leads rookie goalies in wins (3-0-0), goals-against average (1.34), save percentage (.959) and shutouts (one). After spending the past two seasons with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League, Dansk signed a one-year contract with the Golden Knights on July 3.


Adrian Kempe, LW, Los Angeles Kings (2014 Draft, No. 29): Kempe (6-2, 195), 21, who has nine points (six goals, three assists) in 11 games, was the first rookie to have a hat trick this season; he scored three goals in a 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 18.

"There are not many guys that can carry speed like he does, but we like the fact that he's shown the ability to be a 200-foot player, and that's what we're going to need from him," coach John Stevens told the Kings website.


Brock Boeser, RW, Vancouver Canucks (2015 Draft, No. 23): The 6-1, 191-pound top prospect was a healthy scratch the first two games of the season, but has nine points (two goals, seven assists) and 23 shots on goal in the past eight games. Boeser, 20, had five points (four goals, one assist) in nine games at the end of last season after signing with the Canucks following two seasons at the University of North Dakota.

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