Swansea native Clayton Keller made history Friday by being the first metro-east player ever selected in the first round of the NHL Draft, going seventh overall to the Arizona Coyotes at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y.
Keller was one of a record five St. Louis players chosen in the first round, joining former AAA Blues teammates Matthew Tkachuk (sixth overall to Calgary), Logan Brown (11th to Ottawa), Luke Kunin (15th to Minnesota) and Trent Frederic (29th to the Boston Bruins). The player were coached by former Blues players Jeff Brown and Keith Tkachuk, both of whom had sons in the group.
“It’s awesome to have so many St. Louis guys be picked,” Keller said in a video interview on the AZCentral.com web site. “It was such a good group of guys and I’m just so thankful for them coaching me.”
Keller racked up 37 goals and 107 points in only 62 games last season with the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad. Only first overall pick Auston Matthews’ 117 points the year before was higher.
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Keller’s 189 points are a career record for the USNTP program, more than the totals achieved by current NHL stars Patrick Kane or Phil Kessel. Keller’s 118 career assists rank second and his 71 goals rank sixth.
“It’s just crazy,” Keller said during a television interview on NBCSN at the draft. “I set goals all the time and that was definitely one of them, to do that and be a leader and just contribute to growing in all parts of my game on and off the ice. It’s awesome to be here and I’m so thankful to be picked by Arizona. I can’t wait to get started.”
Keller also piled up four goals and 14 points in seven games last season while playing for Team USA at the Under-18 World Juniors Championship.
Keller was projected to go anywhere from eighth to 13th, but he was pleased to be taken so high in the draft.
“I had a meeting with them during the combine and we had good talks, just getting to know each other,” he said. “I was a little shocked, but I’m just so thankful to be picked.
One of the main questions that followed Keller throughout the draft process is his size. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 163 pounds.
“I think that’s probably the biggest thing for me, just getting stronger and putting on a couple pounds,” he said. “That’s what can make me a dominant player in the NHL some day. I’ve always been a smaller guy, so I’ve always had to prove myself.
“My hockey IQ and my skills are just at another level. I try to compare my game to Patrick Kane, he’s probably the same height as me and I think I can be as good as him one day.”
Alton native Dakota Mermis is also in the Coyotes’ organization, as is is Ryan MacInnis, the son of Blues Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis.
Keller is committed to Boston University. He could begin his college career there, or play junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League for the team that owns his rights, the Windsor Spitfires.
“Right now BU’s my top choice and I don’t see that changing,” Keller said. “I think that’s a great spot for me, (BU) Coach (David) Quinn’s a great guy and I don’t think you can go wrong with that. He’s one of the best coaches in obviously one of the top programs, so I’m excited.”
Growing up, Keller played on the same AAA Blues teams based in Chesterfield, Mo., along with fellow first-round picks Tkachuk, Brown, Luke Kunin and Frederic.
Tkachuk, the son of former Blues star Keith Tkachuk, went to the Calgary Flames with the sixth overall pick in the first round. Keller, his longtime friend and teammate, went with the next pick. Brown, Keller’s best friend and hockey roommate, was chosen 11th overall by the Ottawa Senators and Kunin went to the Minnesota Wild at 15th overall. Frederic also got into the first round, taken 29th by the Bruins.
That gave St. Louis, which had never had a previous first-round pick, for picks in the top 15 overall and five in the top 29.
The only other metro-east area player drafted previously was Keller’s good friend Connor Chatham, selected in the third round of the 2014 Draft by the New Jersey Devils. Effingham native Luke Opilka, who also played youth hockey in St. Louis, was drafted by the Blues in the fifth round last June.