Coyotes’ Keller hoping to build on stellar rookie season
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Clayton Keller had a superb start and finish to his rookie season with the Arizona Coyotes, becoming a finalist for the Calder Trophy. In between, he went through a long scoring drought.
Keller’s goal for his sophomore season: More consistency.
Already one of the NHL’s top young players, Keller is hoping to take the next step in his career by mirroring the preparation of players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Kane — with an assist from his coach, Rick Tocchet.
“You try to watch guys like that and see how they create success,” Keller said. “Toc’s a good friend of Crosby’s and he’s always bringing drills that Crosby does, little things before practice to help us. It’s good to have that relationship with Toc to be able to ask questions about this player or that player.”
Arizona used the seventh overall pick of the 2016 NHL draft to select Keller out of Boston University. The 2016 draft was headlined by Auston Matthews, who immediately became one of the NHL’s biggest stars with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and high-scoring Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine.
Keller may have been a steal at No. 7, if that’s even possible.
Though small at 5-foor-10, 170 pounds, Keller is quick, shifty and sees the ice well. He got his rookie season off to a great start, scoring in his first NHL game and piling up 11 goals in Arizona’s first 16 games. Keller was the Coyotes leader in goals and points at the end of 2017.
Once the calendar flipped, Keller’s production dropped off. He had three goals and 12 points through the first two months of 2018, appearing to hit the rookie wall.
But Keller found his form again late in the season, finishing with 23 goals and 38 assists to break Arizona’s rookie records.
“Any NHL player — the guy is turning 20 years old — consistency is key,” Tocchet said. “I’m not saying he’s inconsistent, but the great ones have a bad night and usually the next night they bounce back. That’s one of the things he’s probably going to learn.”
Tocchet has tried to help Keller gain consistency by sharing some of the things he learned from Mario Lemieux and Crosby.
Tocchet won a Stanley Cup while playing with Lemieux and was on the bench when Crosby led the Penguins to two titles. Both were skilled players, but also had the work ethic to become the best in their sport.
“I was very lucky to be around some of the best players in the world,” Tocchet said. “I played with Mario Lemieux, coached Sidney Crosby and there’s a reason why they’re the best. They work hard. They do what it takes.”
Keller doesn’t lack the work ethic. He usually shows up early for practice to work on his game and is what Tocchet calls a “hockey nerd” who is always watching the game, tons of film, asking questions.
Keller expects to get more attention from opponents this season and to get banged around a little more as teams try to slow him down. He spent the summer adding strength and muscle while implementing some of the drills culled from Crosby.
“I feel really good. I feel a lot stronger,” Keller said. “It should help me through this full 82 and be ready for every game.”