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Arizona Coyotes need a consistent Clayton Keller

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The American winger has been hit-and-miss so far this season.

Arizona Coyotes v St Louis Blues Photo by Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

As seen in the last two games, when the Arizona Coyotes get consistent play from Clayton Keller, good things happen.

Keller is the highest-paid forward on the Coyotes roster, with a $7.15 million AAV on an eight-year deal that started this season, so it is a reasonable expectation that he would provide the team with important goals and produce plenty of points.

After 12 games this season, Keller has scored four goals and has eight total points - a fairly solid return when taken at face value, but far more concerning when exactly half of those points (2G, 2A) have come in the past two games alone.

Keller’s impressive form against the St. Louis Blues, including his heroic buzzer-beater to tie the last game up at 3-3 and send the team to an overtime shootout that they ultimately won, has helped the Coyotes regain their footing in the West Division - dragging the team to a 6-5-1 record and into fourth place.

When the Missouri native is on form for the Coyotes, he shows everyone why he was once third in Calder Trophy voting at the end of his rookie year, but the team needs to be getting this kind of Keller far more often if they hope to make the playoffs this year.

The 22-year-old started the year hot, with a goal and two assists in the Coyotes’ first two games, against the San Jose Sharks.

What followed, however, was an eight-game stretch where Keller put up just one solitary assist, raising many eyebrows and questions over his play and, unsurprisingly, his future with the team beyond this season.

It would seem crazy to even contemplate losing a 22-year-old player that has consistently produced over 40 points a season so far, but when he had just four total points after ten games this year, the thought may have crept in.

Fast forward a couple of games against the current leaders in the division, the Coyotes have claimed three consecutive wins, and Keller has been at his absolute best.

This is the kind of Keller that the team needs to get, and putting him with the best linemates could go a long way to help him be the player he can be on a more consistent basis.

Per Dobber Prospects’ tool, Keller has been involved in an astonishing 54 different line combinations in all situations so far this season, far too much rotating and tinkering from the coaches to realistically get the best out of the player.

But one line has emerged as the clear number one if the team wants to get the best, not only out of Keller but from an offensive point of view.

The line of Conor Garland, Nick Schmaltz, and Keller have played 24% of all of the latter’s minutes so far this season, and, dubbed the “Short Leash” Line, they have clearly shown to be the best fit.

In their time together, the SLL has six goals for and just one goal against, with a combined Corsi rating of 61.3%.

Keller’s second-best partnership, alongside Derick Brassard and Tyler Pitlick, has a higher Corsi rating (68.7%) but has produced an even two goals for and against.

Based on their time together, prior to the latest St. Louis victory, the SLL had a 2.2 expected goals for rating, which jumps to 3.37 per 60 minutes. Conversely, opponents are limited to 0.9 expected goals, or 1.38 per 60.

The Pitlick/Brassard line with Keller is still positive, with 1.8xGF/2.91xGF per 60, with opponents sitting at 1xGA/1.62xGA per 60.

None of Keller’s other combinations come close to what these two lines can, but if head coach Rick Tocchet is serious about the team producing at a high level then keeping Keller with the SLL consistently is the way to get consistent play from him.

And when the Arizona Coyotes get consistent play from Clayton Keller, good things happen.