Coyotes’ Star Clayton Keller Is Just Getting Started

One of the many rising stars in today’s NHL is forward Clayton Keller, who was drafted seventh overall selection by the Arizona Coyotes at the 2016 NHL Draft. Since then, he has been a fan favorite in the desert and one of the best players on the team. That said, he also had one of his best years this past season, let alone his young career. Unfortunately, his spectacular campaign was cut short in a game against the San Jose Sharks, where he broke his femur. Now let’s take a peek at what the Coyotes have been able to get with Keller throughout his career so far.

Keller’s Early Struggles

Being a top ten draft selection, there are always high expectations, but Keller had himself quite the rookie year. During the 2017-18 season, he was able to notch 65 points, which was good for second among rookies. Despite an impressive rookie campaign, he hasn’t had production like that until recently. After the show he put on, the expectation was that he would build upon it and do even better the following year. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite the case, as he was only able to rack up 47 points, though that total still led the team in scoring.

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In Keller’s third year in the NHL, he once again did not produce the way fans saw in his rookie campaign. This time, he chalked up 17 goals for 44 points in 70 games, which was good for second on the team; only Nick Schmaltz had more points with 45. That year also saw the Coyotes sneak into the playoffs, where Keller scored four goals and a total of seven points, the most on the team. While it was a short run, he gained playoff experience and some valuable leadership skills, which we will get to later.

Keller Started to Have More Success With More Experience

The COVID-19 season was another tough one for Keller, as he only managed 35 points in 56 games. The team was very inconsistent with their play, so that could’ve also played a factor in his game. After the 2020-21 season, the Coyotes went into full rebuild mode, as general manager Bill Armstrong tore the team down, getting assets, such as picks, and taking on bad contracts. Since that meant Keller would be playing on the first line, this presented an opportunity for him to have a breakout year.

Clayton Keller Arizona Coyotes
Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There it was, the breakout everyone had been waiting for, as Keller and Schmaltz benefited greatly from playing on the same line. They both broke out in a big way for the Coyotes in 2021-22, putting up 50-plus point seasons, along with Keller finishing with a career-high 28 goals. But as mentioned, he broke his femur, resulting in him ending the season with 63 points in 68 games. It was a brutal loss for the Coyotes, losing their best player who was on track to beat his record for most points in a season. However, despite the injury, his season was still great, even though it wasn’t the ending everyone hoped for.

Keller Now Has a New Leadership Opportunity With the Coyotes

Keller’s leadership skills were on display all season long as he earned the role of an alternate captain. As the team’s best player, it is great to see a young player like him display this type of leadership. Coyotes head coach Andre Tourigny said this: “I often say, ‘When a guy’s a leader, everyone knows he’s a leader…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.” Keller, who has struggled to play with confidence, must have felt good with these remarks from head coach Tourigny.

What the Future Holds for Keller

Coming off such an impressive and monumental season, fans have to hope it continues for Keller. Nevertheless, the future is very bright. Logan Cooley, who was selected third overall in the 2022 draft, is alongside him. Dylan Guenther has the potential to elevate his game even further than he did this past season as well. Despite all of these excellent prospects, he still performs well on his own.

Colorado Avalanche Matt Nieto Arizona Coyotes Clayton Keller
Colorado Avalanche left wing Matt Nieto and Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

With Keller signed in the desert throughout 2028, he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. And perhaps this upcoming year, the Coyotes will end up naming him captain. If that does happen, that would not only be tremendous for Keller but for the team too. They have not had one since Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who got traded to the Vancouver Canucks a year ago. The Coyotes hope he will be ready to roll for next season, and if everything goes to plan, it will be exciting to see him play again and have a great year.

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