With the emphasis on placing younger players in the lineup, the Arizona Coyotes moved another step in that direction.
Before practice Sunday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, the Coyotes took what they hope is another step toward respectability and success. With center Dylan Strome, the third overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, continuing to play at the junior level, the Coyotes immediately jumped on center Clayton Keller’s bandwagon.
After a stellar freshman season at Boston University and the Coyotes’ first pick (seventh overall) in the 2016 draft, the 18-years-old, 5-foot-10, 168 pound, signed a three-year entry level contract — immediately after the BU Terriers were eliminated by Minnesota-Duluth in the West Region finals of the NCAA Tournament. After the game, Keller flew from Fargo, N. D., site of the NCAA Western finals, to St. Louis and inked his first professional contract.
Signs First Pro Contract
“This is awesome,” Keller said after practice Sunday in audio supplied by the Coyotes. “We had a great year at BU, but I’m ready for the next chapter. It’s really nice to get in a few games and get used to the pace and lifestyle in the NHL.”
Coyotes’ coach Dave Tippett walked the political line when he told reporters after Sunday’s practice that Keller’s insertion in the line-up Monday night against the St. Louis Blues would be a game-time decision. The fact the Coyotes are down a few skaters at center ice could be Keller’s opportunity to step right and produce.
Productive College Season
Displaying speed and acumen as early as the Coyotes’ rookie camp last September, Keller turned in a strong season with the Terriers. As the Hockey East Rookie-of-the-Year, and Hockey East second team all-star, Keller topped BU in scoring with 21 goals and 45 points. Along the way, he recorded a plus 15 and tied fellow rookie Patrick Harper in assists. Keller scored at least one point in 25 of his final 26 games with BU and had a 15-game point streak. That was the longest by a Terriers’ rookie in 21 years.
The venue of Keller’s signing seems significant. Growing up in suburban St. Louis, Keller returns to his home town and ready to hit ice there for his first NHL game. If Keller plays Monday, and there is every reason to believe he will, Tippett is unsure of his line mates. At this point, there is a larger question at hand.
“The plan for Clayton is to see how his game develops,” Tippett said in audio supplied by the Coyotes. “What we want to see is a compilation of his season and the maturity. Great players show the ability what it takes to win games and we’ll anxious to see if Clayton possess that ability.”
Keller gets another chance to skate against his hometown team in Wednesday night. That’s when the Blues pay a return visit to the Gila River Arena and the second half of this back-to-back two-game set.
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.