Coyotes’ Keller Growing Into Leader Team Needs

It’s no shocker to anyone who’s paid attention to the NHL this season that the Arizona Coyotes have been lacking in a lot of areas, including leadership. But recently, that hasn’t been the case, as forward Clayton Keller has clearly emerged as the clear-cut leader in the team’s locker room.

Keller’s rise from the seventh overall pick to struggling forward over the past two to three seasons has blossomed into him turning into a very mature, dependable forward, resulting in him taking over as the team’s leader during a lengthy and tough rebuild, as expected future captain Jakob Chychrun remains sidelined, while trade rumors involving the defenseman intensify.

Keller Receiving Leadership Praise

Keller’s leadership skills have been on display this season as of recently, earning him praise from the likes of Arizona Coyotes writer/reporter Craig Morgan, other respected credentialed writers and reporters, and even veteran forward and teammate Andrew Ladd, who had some high praise for the young forward.

In addition to taking over as a leader in the locker room, Keller has been wearing an assistant captain’s patch for the team’s last couple of games, only adding to his case as a team leader, a case which has resulted in the team’s fans calling for the 23-year-old Missouri native to be named the franchise’s next captain over originally expected choice, Chychrun.

Related: 3 Takeaways from the Coyotes’ 4-2 Loss to the Nashville Predators

Most importantly, Keller has bought into the system that new head coach André Tourigny has brought to Arizona, earning him high praise for his work ethic and effort, which Tourigny has taken notice of.

“I often say, ‘When a guy’s a leader, everyone knows he’s a leader,’” Tourigny said. “The fans know he’s a leader, the owner knows he’s a leader, the GM knows he’s a leader, the coach knows, his teammates know — everybody knows.”

This, in turn, has sparked the forward’s game to the next level, resulting in leading the team in goals while remaining on pace for a 30 goal season. He’s also received well-deserved praise from general manager Bill Armstrong, who’s stated that he’s a long-term piece in the team’s future.

“You can certainly see the confidence he’s playing with right now, and the numbers usually come along with that,” said Armstrong. “You can see points in the game when he has the puck, and he’s the best player on the ice.

Keller Being Rewarded

While he continues to guide the team through a lengthy rebuild, Keller has continued to put in the work. This has resulted in him being rewarded for what he’s been able to accomplish during such a long, rough season, including being selected as the team’s sole representative for the upcoming 2022 NHL All-Star Game on Feb. 5 in Las Vegas. This is his second All-Star Game selection in his career, with his first coming in 2019.

In addition, Keller added seven pounds of muscle during the offseason, which has paid off, as he’s been more physical and harder to knock off the puck than in years past. As the season has ranged on, Keller has taken on bigger roles and more ice time, which has garnered the attention of opponents who have altered their game plan around stopping him.

While many fans have praised the work and role Keller has taken on and accomplished, it wasn’t always the case. After signing a huge, eight-year, $7 million extension during the offseason after the 2018-19 season, his production took a dramatic drop, going from 65 points his rookie season to 47 and 44 the next two seasons before registering a respectable 35 points in 56 games last season during the shortened COVID-19 pandemic season.

The Future Is Bright for Keller

Nevertheless, Keller has seemed to turn a page in his career, maturing in the process and proving that he has a bright future ahead of him, one that he hopes finally puts to rest the claim that he didn’t deserve the extension that the team gave him back in 2019.

Clayton Keller Arizona Coyotes-Coyotes’ Keller Growing Into Leader Team Needs
Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While the team might not name a captain for the next season or two, when that time does come, you better believe Keller’s name will be at the top of the list. There’s plenty of season left, and while the Coyotes aren’t playing for a spot in the playoffs, Keller continues to excite and grow as a player and a leader. Make sure you keep your eye out in Arizona, because Clayton Keller is on a path to becoming the next great NHL star.