The Arizona Coyotes did something few people suspected at this year's draft. They decided to forego a defenceman with the 7th overall pick and instead chose Clayton Keller, a highly skilled playmaker from the United Sates National Development Team.
GM John Chayka has shown that he is willing to go high-risk, high-reward. Let’s look at why Keller could be one the highest rewards ryet.
#3 - Clayton Keller - Center - USNDT/Boston University - 7th overall pick, 2016 NHL Draft
Highest Rank: 3
Lowest Rank: 11
Born in Chesterfield, Missouri and raised in Swansea, Illinois, Clayton Keller is one of the growing number of smaller, highly skilled players that have been gaining prominence in the NHL lately. At 5’ 10", 170 pounds Keller is a player in the image of Tyler Johnson (5’ 8", 185 pounds), Johnny Gaudreau (5’9" 157"), or Mitch Marner (5’11", 164 pounds).
Clayton Keller has exceeded at every level of hockey he has played thus far. Coming from the growing United States National Team Development Program, Keller was a point per game player with the U17 and U18 teams and with the US team at the IIHF World U18 Championship in 2015 and 2016. He currently holds the record for most assists in a season with the USNTDP with 70 and all-time points with 182. For comparison the USNTDP has notable alumni like Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews, and Keller bested them all.
Keller’s game is highlighted by his skating, his vision, and his ability to create offense. At the prospect development camp scrimmage, Keller was able to stand out against older draft picks like Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak by showcasing his creativity in the offensive zone. He isn’t all offense either; the USNTDP used him for defensive draws and penalty kills regularly.
With all the skills necessary to be a great playmaker in the NHL, it's only a matter of time before Keller is set to make an impact for the Coyotes. Keller could be for the Coyotes what Ray Whitney (another short player at 5’ 10") was during his two seasons with the team, a highly skilled player who had the ability to carry the team’s offense for stretches.
Keller still has a ways to go before he is going to see action in the NHL, and a year at Boston University should help. Right now strength may be the biggest area he should focus on, and as we have noted in the past, the shorter NCAA schedule should allow more time to build strength in the next year. He will also likely have to move over from center to wing, which if anything should actually make his adjustment to the NHL easier.
Keller has stated his plan is to be ready to make the Coyotes by the 2017-18 season, which is a lofty goal, But for Clayton Keller, it's one that is definitely possible.