In the world of hockey, one could be on top of the world, and in matter of seconds, have it all come crashing down. That was the case this past Wednesday in a game against the San Jose Sharks, when Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller, who was chasing a puck into the zone, lost an edge before going into the boards awkwardly, feet first.
A hush fell over the crowd as people looked on, watching team trainers attend to Keller. At that moment, the game didn’t matter. Players were stunned and emotional as they watched their teammate and star player lay on the ice gripping his leg. The organization held its breath, watching its potential future captain get loaded up on a stretcher before giving the crowd a thumbs up on his way off the ice.
Keller is the most recent season-ending injury to plague the Coyotes, with forwards Lawson Crouse, Christian Fischer, Liam O’Brien, Antoine Roussel, and defenseman Jakob Chychrun all announced to be sidelined for the remainder of the season. With just 15 games left, the Coyotes will limp the rest of way, with a team made up of veterans, rookies, and minor league players.
Keller was on Pace to Set Career Highs
Entering Wednesday night’s game against the Sharks, Keller was three points shy of breaking his career high in points, 65, which he set his rookie season. He had already broken his career-high in goals with 28 this season coming into the game, and was seven assists shy of tying his career best, as well.
This season especially was a breakout one for the Coyotes’ lone All-Star representative. After recording 65 points his rookie season, the Coyotes forward logged 47, 44, and 35 points over the next three seasons, leading some to question the organization’s decision in giving him a seven year contract extension.
Impact on the Team/Organization
If you ask anyone in the Coyotes’ locker room about Keller, and what he means to the team, you’d find no shortage of answers. Praise from veterans such as Andrew Ladd, as well as head coach André Tourigny and general manager Bill Armstrong, showed the leadership he displays, which earned him an alternate captain patch this season.
That leadership has been present all season, all the way up to Wednesday night’s injury. Tourigny, who knows better than anyone what kind of player Keller is and what his presence means to the team, reiterated that in his postgame conference. “We know it will be long term. “He’ll recover. For now it’s not the injury, it’s the human. It’s Kells the person. He competes so hard. Seeing him in pain and having a significant injury, that’s extremely tough.”
Guys like Phil Kessel and Nick Schmaltz, all the way to rookies such as Karel Vejmelka and Jan Jeník, know what Keller means to the franchise, and were genuinely worried about him in the postgame interview. To them, the game — and subsequent win — meant nothing after losing their teammate. All they cared about was making sure he was okay.
What’s Next Going Forward
With Keller’s season officially over after sustaining a broken femur, which required leg surgery and will sideline him for the next four to six months, the Coyotes’ focus turns to getting through the rest of the season with a heavily depleted roster. With Arizona now out three of their top players, guys from the Tucson Roadrunners — the Coyotes’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate — look to secure some playing time in hopes of cementing roster spots for next season.
The Coyotes will certainly miss seeing Keller play again this season, as he helped to take people’s minds off the club’s full rebuild mode. There’s solace in knowing that he’s part of the team’s future, and if he can come back stronger than ever next season and continue to play at the level he showcased this season, the ceiling is limitless for him.
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Mr. Evans is originally from Greenville, SC where he currently resides. Mr. Evans has been involved in hockey for the past 18 years now, following the Arizona Coyotes and St. Louis Blues. During his free time, Mr. Evans enjoys spending time with his family and girlfriend as well as being up in the mountains or taking pictures. Prior to joining The Hockey Writers, Mr. Evans previously worked for The Puck Authority, covering the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and FanSided’s Bleedin’ Blue, covering the St. Louis Blues. You can find Mr. Evans on Twitter at @HaynesPEvans.