Not only has Swansea native Clayton Keller signed a three-year entry level contract with the Arizona Coyotes, it looks like the former Boston University forward will make his NHL debut in his hometown arena against the St. Louis Blues on Monday.
“It’s pretty cool,” Keller said after practicing with the Coyotes on Sunday at Scottrade Center. “I grew up here, my grandpa and dad taking me to games when I was real little. It’s just really special that I’m in this building and my cousin’s the (assistant) equipment manager of the Blues ... a lot of connections down here — and it’s great to be here.”
Keller, the first metro-east player to be selected in the first round, was the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. The Blues play host to the Coyotes at 7 p.m. Monday.
“We are extremely pleased to sign Clayton to an entry level contract,” Arizona Coyotes General Manager John Chayka said. “Clayton is a highly skilled, dynamic forward. He is a strong skater who has a powerful shot and great hockey sense. We are excited to have him join our team and finish the regular season with the Coyotes.”
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The 18-year-old forward was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year and College Hockey News Rookie of the Year this season, finishing with 21 goals and 45 points in 31 games as the Terriers’ top scorer. Keller had at least one points in 21 of 31 games, with 15 multi-point games. His 1.45-points per game scoring average was tied for seventh among all college hockey players.
“It was a great season at the ‘U’ and now I’m ready for the next chapter,” said Keller, who figures to benefit greatly from this NHL experience. “I think it’s great that they’re letting me get a few games in and see how I do. I think it can really help me for next year, getting used to the pace and the lifestyle and how everyone takes care of themselves.”
Keller (5-foot-10, 174 pounds) also was the top scorer for Team USA’s gold medal squad at the 2017 World Junior Championship. He had three goals and 11 points in seven games.
Keller first college hockey season ended Saturday in the NCAA West Regional with Boston University’s 3-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth.
In his final season with the U.S. National Development Team, Keller had 37 goals and 107 points in 62 games.
Coyotes coach Dave Tippett recalled his own NHL debut when asked by reporters to describe what Keller must be experiencing.
“When I first came to the NHL, I played 17 games at the end of one year after the Olympics,” Tippett said. “I remember looking back and thinking how much that helped me going to training camp the next year. You just know how everything’s done, you just come in and you concentrate on hockey.
“I think he’s going to find out how hard it really is to play in this league. When you get to this league, it’s all the top players in the world, not just a few of them. It will be a real challenge for him. He’s a real keen kid; his skill level is off the charts. I’m interested to see where he can get to.”