The Arizona Coyotes continued their offseason trend of bucking conventional wisdom by passing on available defensive prospects to take Clayton Keller with the 7th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Despite having the chance to choose one of Mikhail Sergachev or Jakob Chychrun for a defensive corps largely devoid of high-end talent, the Coyotes picked Keller, an undeniable scoring juggernaut who has turned heads in the United States Development Program.
Clayton Keller - Center - US National Team Development Program - U18
2015-16 Stats: 62 GP - 37G, 70A
The point totals should immediately make Keller stand out; in his time with the USNTDP (from 2014-16), nobody scored more points than Keller. That includes Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, Jack Eichel, and yes, Auston Matthews.
At 5' 10", 168 pounds, the Boston University commit is not exactly an imposing physical force. But what he does have is a very natural sense of where he is on the ice and where his teammates are. He simply doesn't give up the puck very often, and his teammates are better for it.
Chris Dilks of SB Nation College Hockey, has this to say about Keller:
He doesn't get talked about as a potential top-five pick in this Draft because people aren't quite sure how to judge his tremendous stats. He doesn't have the benefit of getting to run rampant over another year prior to the Draft. That may be his loss, but a huge gain for whichever team ends up with him, because they're going to be getting a sensational player at a tremendous value.
The big question with Keller will be how well his skills and abilities translate to the NHL. It is a league with big, strong defensemen. But if the success of Johnny Gaudreau and Tyler Johnson is any indication, skill can beat size in this day and age.
It still remains to be seen how Arizona addresses its defensive prospect issues, and with Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak already in the system, someone is likely going to need to move to the wing, and Keller seems like the probable choice.
But Keller scores, pure and simple. It's hard not to appreciate how readily he can put up points. And if he does well in the NCAA, this pick may end up looking like a great one.