Whenever someone is selected in the Top Ten of the NHL Draft, there are high expectations placed on that player and Clayton Keller is no exception.
The Arizona Coyotes selected Keller with the seventh overall pick in the 2016 Draft, with Missouri native the organisation’s hope for a long-term replacement of Shane Doan.
After being selected by the Coyotes, Keller dominated in college hockey - registering 21 goals and 45 total points in 31 regular season games for Boston College.
Keller followed that up with a truly impressive rookie campaign in the NHL, earning 23 goals and 65 total points in a full 82-game season in the desert.
The future looked set for the Coyotes, with Keller their undisputed star forward that would lead them to bigger and better things.
But the 2018/19 season saw the young American star’s production drop, despite the team’s overall on-ice results improving greatly from his rookie season.
Playing a full 82-game season once again, Keller had just 14 goals but earned a team-high 47 total points.
This led to the young winger being named an NHL All-Star and represent Team USA at the IIHF World Championships.
Now, Keller enters a crucial season that will determine how long and how lucrative his next contract is going to be - with hopes of significantly improving on his current $1,673,333 AAV (including performance bonuses).
After the 2019/20 season, Keller will be a restricted free agent and will be hoping to secure a big pay-day.
It is expected that the 21-year-old will be partnered with Nick Schmaltz for the majority of the season, with the pair forming a strong chemistry on the ice before the former Chicago Blackhawks center was ruled out for the season.
Partnering Keller with Schmaltz should help the Coyotes’ draft pick get back to the scoring pace he showed during his rookie season.
With Phil Kessel also added to the roster, Keller should benefit from an improved power-play unit - allowing him to put up bigger numbers with the man advantage.
If Keller can produce at a higher rate, reaching at least 60 points, then general manager John Chayka will be put in a position that makes it harder for him to pay his young star less.
While he isn’t going to get paid like a number of other RFAs, who are consistent point-per-game players or score over 30 goals a season, Keller could still increase his asking price if he can continue building chemistry with Schmaltz.
A bridge deal might be on the cards for Keller if he doesn’t eclipse his rookie season totals, with the organisation wanting to see more from him.
A ‘prove-it’ deal of around two years might be the most likely in this situation, but the hope is that he will show enough this season to lock up a longer-term contract and avoid the awkwardness of a bridge deal.