Clayton Keller

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The Buzzer: Celebrating genius of McDavid, Bergeron, Karlsson

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Player of the Night: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Nico Hischier collected two goals and an assist in a blistering effort as the Devils beat the Senators in overtime. Erik Karlsson almost ruined things for New Jersey with three assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched an impressive 43-save shutout as the Lightning edged the Blue Jackets. Ben Bishop narrowly kept Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan from even bigger nights, yet each player scored two goals and one assist apiece in a slim Stars win vs. the Coyotes.

Even Bergeron’s teammates made some waves.

There were great choices for player of the night, but ultimately, Bergeron’s return to the Bruins lineup stands tallest. He scored a goal and three assists, soothing injury-bummed Bruins fans as part of Boston’s victory against Vancouver.

Bergeron didn’t ease right in. He won half of his draws, fired six shots on goal, and almost logged 21 minutes of ice time. Maybe he can hold things together for Boston?

Highlight of the Night: Connor McDavid‘s ridiculous assist

This post goes into greater detail on that and Edmonton’s win, so we’ll just stick this GIF in here because you need to see it either way:

OK, but to avoid an overly redundant buzzer, check Hischier here, David Pastrnak‘s great goal, and Mikhail Sergachev‘s big night. And, as a bonus, Will Butcher must have nodded to Karlsson after sending this ridiculous outlet pass:

Outstanding.

You know what? Enjoy Bishop robbing Derek Stepan as a bonus bonus.

Misc.

Click here for Erik Gudbranson‘s hit and fight. Zack Kassian‘s hit on Ryan Hartman is mentioned there, but just in case you missed it, here it is one more time:

Factoids of the night

Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators continued their hot streak by blanking the Flyers. Rinne enjoys a milestone moment:

Two impressive bits regarding how dominant McDavid and Karlsson have been:

Scores and more

Bruins 6, Canucks 3 (more)

Devils 5, Senators 4 [OT] (more)

Islanders 4, Rangers 3 [SO]

Predators 1, Flyers 0

Lightning 2, Blue Jackets 0 (more)

Oilers 2, Blackhawks 1 [OT] (more)

Blues 4, Avalanche 3

Hurricanes 2, Flames 1

Stars 5, Coyotes 4

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Clayton Keller focused on helping Coyotes as Calder Trophy buzz grows

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Clayton Keller received a special kind of rookie treatment last season moments before his NHL debut with the Arizona Coyotes.

Like other young players around the league, Keller’s teammates stayed behind in the tunnel and the rookie ended up taking a solo lap during warmups before a game against the St. Louis Blues last March. The moment was extra special for Keller, who grew up playing youth hockey in area under the tutelage of former NHLers Jeff Brown and Keith Tkachuk.

As a kid, Keller would attend Blues games with his father and grandfather, and it was there that his NHL dreams began to develop. As those dreams came closer to reality, it was his late grandfather who played a huge role in Keller achieving his goal of becoming a professional.

“He was probably the reason that I’m here today. He took me to everything growing up — hockey camps, school, hockey practice, and just about everything,” Keller told Pro Hockey Talk on Monday. “I know he’d be pretty proud today.”

Keller, the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft, spent most of last season at Boston University where he scored 21 times and recorded 45 points in 31 games. Two days after the Terriers were knocked out of the NCAA tournament, he was taking that lap around Scottrade Center as family and friends cheered from the other side of the glass. He would play three games for the Coyotes and get to experience that “Welcome to the NHL” moment every rookie remembers.

“It’s pretty cool to see [Vladimir] Tarasenko and Jamie Benn,” Keller said. “I lined up next to those guys. That’s pretty crazy because I grew up watching both of those guys.”

Those three games introduced Keller to the pace of the NHL, which he quickly adjusted to. After the season ended, he was invited to play for the United States at the World Championship where he’d finish with five goals, including a hat trick against Denmark.

“It really helped me out a lot. You never really know how hard the NHL is until you play in it,” Keller said. “I got lucky at the end of last year and got a nice taste and realized how hard I had to work. That was a huge advantage for me.”

The talent Keller showed as a youth player on the U.S. National Development Team and in his only year at Boston University has led to lots of Calder Trophy buzz for the 19-year-old forward. But that talk is not something he’s focused on.

“I try to block it out. I don’t really pay attention to it,” Keller said. “I just play my game and the rest will [come].”

At 5’10, Keller isn’t the biggest out on the ice, which is why he cites Patrick Kane and Johnny Gaudreau as influences — players who don’t have the size, but are skillful and quick. That skill has been on display through five games this season. Playing alongside Derek Stepan and Max Domi, Keller had potted three goals, meshing well with new Coyotes linemates and head coach Rick Tocchet’s desired style of play.

“We want to play fast, in-your-face type hockey. But also with lots of skill and [a] good defensive zone. It’s a great system, and it’ll show,” Keller said.

Life as an NHL rookie can be a difficult. Adjusting to a faster pace, dealing with the physicality and just going through the highs and lows of a season with a team can be expected. For Keller, he’s fortunate that he has plenty of friends around the league in the same situation. Former BU teammate and current Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy is someone Keller frequently exchanges exepriences with.

“Charlie’s one of my best friends. I played with him last year. We definitely talked about how the season has been going so far,” Keller said. “It’s good to have a friend like that around the league. He’s an awesome person and an even better player.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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Coyotes coach was embarrassed by loss to Bruins; More trouble looms ahead

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Following a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet apologized to fans for an “embarrassing” second period. That was the time that game got away from them, as a 1-1 tie swung to a 4-1 advantage for Boston.

Really, though, it wouldn’t be surprising if Tocchet was actually apologizing for the growing pains that come with an 0-4-1 start for a team that enjoyed what seemed like an excellent summer of moves.

Here’s the full presser, via the Coyotes:

Seeing Zdeno Chara come in all alone to put in a rebound probably didn’t make Tocchet very happy:

AZ Sports’ Craig Morgan caught up with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who explained what happened on the next goal, which came on a Brad Marchand breakaway.

“I was just trying to get the puck and that’s just the way it goes,” said Ekman-Larsson, who is a team-worst minus-9. “We’re down 3-1 so you kind of look for some good breaks and it goes that way instead. I was cheating a little bit. You have to give the guy credit. He knew I was going to do that.”

Morgan’s detail stands out; as reviled as plus/minus can be as a stat, and as potent as “OEL” can be on the power play, a -9 does indeed make you cringe.

As important as it is to point out that Louis Domingue, not newly acquired Antti Raanta, has been in the net for much of the Coyotes’ struggles, there are plenty of goals that come down to flat-out awful defense. To some extent, that might be systemic, as Tocchet & Co. will need to accept the good and the bad that comes with utilizing scoring defensemen to attack opponents. Much like with the struggling Buffalo Sabres, it may also take some time for a new coach to sort things out with a lot of young players.

On the bright side, there are some early returns for young players who could play a role in turning this around … eventually. Calder candidate Clayton Keller leads the Coyotes with three goals and ties Max Domi for the team lead with four points in five games.

Here’s the bad news: their schedule only gets tougher to close out October.

Tue, Oct 17 @ Dallas
Thu, Oct 19 vs Dallas
Sat, Oct 21 vs Chicago
Tue, Oct 24 @ NY Islanders
Thu, Oct 26 @ NY Rangers
Sat, Oct 28 @ New Jersey
Mon, Oct 30 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Oct 31 @ Detroit

With the Blackhawks continuing to find ways to win and the Stars possibly getting back on track, the next three games stand as a serious challenge. After that, a five-game road trip could really test the mettle of a group that’s already likely dealing with shaken confidence.

Consider that the Coyotes have lost two: the Vegas Golden Knights twice, a banged-up Ducks team, a fast-starting but still doubted Red Wings group, and an up-and-down Bruins team.

There’s the scary possibility that the Coyotes may still see a zero at the beginning of their record come November.

Also scary: that November schedule, which includes a stretch with seven of eight road games from Nov. 6-20.

Yikes.

Then again, sometimes teams bond during tough stretches. Just about every NHL team needs to navigate big bumps in the road during a season, so the Coyotes can only explain things away so much before such reasons merely sound like excuses.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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‘Fun to watch’ — Devils rookie Jesper Bratt off to hot start

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Bovada has released its Calder Trophy odds, and the names on the list shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes tops the list at 9/2, followed by 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier, who recorded his first NHL point for the New Jersey Devils on Monday, and what a thing of beauty that was.

Here’s a look at the list:

Clayton Keller (Arizona): 9/2

Nico Hischier (New Jersey): 5/1

Anders Bjork (Boston): 7/1

Brock Boeser (Vancouver): 7/1

Charlie McAvoy (Boston): 7/1

Alex DeBrincat (Chicago): 8/1

Nolan Patrick (Philadelphia): 9/1

Dylan Strome (Arizona): 9/1

Tyson Jost (Colorado): 12/1

Jakub Vrana (Washington): 20/1

Kailer Yamamoto (Edmonton): 20/1

Again, nothing really out of the ordinary with that list, highlighted by top prospects and first-round draft picks. It’s still early and plenty can change, of course, but there is another first-year player that, if things continue the way they are going, should start to gain more attention throughout the league.

He isn’t a first-round pick.

No, you’d have to scroll all the way down to the sixth round and the 162nd overall selection in the 2016 NHL Draft to find this player’s name.

At 19 years of age, Jesper Bratt of the Devils has been able to fly under the radar to some degree because of the addition of Hischier with the top pick in June, and a number of acquisitions made this offseason to upgrade that club’s offense heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

Maybe not for much longer, though.

The first week of the new NHL season isn’t over yet, but so far Bratt leads all NHL rookies with three goals and five points in two games. He scored twice on Monday, as the Devils crushed the Buffalo Sabres.

“He’s a really good hockey player already. He’s young and he just got over here,” said Devils forward Marcus Johansson, per NJ.com. “It’s fun to watch, and I think everyone can agree on that. If he keeps going at this pace, it’s going to be pretty impressive.”

It should be mentioned that he’s currently sporting a shooting percentage of 100. That will, likely at some point in the next few days, begin to go down. Early on, though, he’s been a productive player for a Devils team that made several high profile moves over the past two summers to improve their woeful scoring attack.

There have already been a few surprises to begin this NHL season. You can add the early breakout of Jesper Bratt to that list.

Deep defense and lots of questions: Examining Arizona Coyotes’ cap situation

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A shift is happening with the Arizona Coyotes, and if this summer is any indication, this might not be a slow evolution.

Faces of the franchise such as Shane Doan, Mike Smith, and (former) head coach Dave Tippett are gone, but just as importantly, the Coyotes are beginning to use their cap space to add NHL-ready players, rather than absorbing other team’s mistakes or problem salaries in exchange for assets.

This post discusses how the acquisition of Jason Demers makes this Coyotes team one to take more seriously in 2017-18, but let’s go the extra mile and examine the team’s salary structure.

(For cap analysis on a growing number of NHL teams, click here.)

That defense

Let’s start with a unit that’s rising among the league’s best, though still a tier below, say, the Nashville Predators’ impressive group.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: 26, $5.5 million cap hit through 2018-19

You know a defenseman is a deadly scorer when a 12-goal year is a letdown. For “OEL,” 2016-17 probably qualified as much, and yet he’s still an off-the-charts guy. One of the potential bonuses of a competent Coyotes team would be Ekman-Larsson getting more attention as a true star on the blueline.

About the only problem with Ekman-Larsson is that, like fellow high-scoring Swede Erik Karlsson, that bargain deal won’t last much longer. OEL will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Coyotes snatched him up in the summer of 2018. Really, they’d do so if they’re as smart as they seem.

Alex Goligoski – 32, $5.475M through 2020-21

For all the excitement that surrounds the Dallas Stars seemingly every summer, it sure seems like they might have dropped the ball by letting “Gogo” go. He’s a transition gem and an underrated all-around player; hopefully his game will age well, but at the moment, Goligoski’s a very nice value for Arizona. With 36 points, he wasn’t far behind OEL last season.

Niklas Hjalmarsson – 30, $4.1M through 2018-19

Maybe Connor Murphy will pan out for Chicago, but the Coyotes were reasonable in trading some potential for a “sure thing.” It’s difficult to believe that Hjalmarsson is only 30, considering his remarkable achievements.

As one of the best examples of a modern “defensive defenseman” alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the Coyotes can lean on Hjalmarsson for tough matchups, freeing more offensive-minded guys to focus on scoring.

The only bummer is that he, too, only has two years remaining on his resounding bargain of a contract.

Demers – 29, $3.938M through 2020-21

Personally, shaving off 12.5 percent of Demers’ cap hit makes it more palatable by an almost odd degree. He’s another Coyotes defenseman who subtly impresses, and at a reasonable price, one made even more reasonable in parting ways with an expendable piece in Jamie McGinn.

The Coyotes have room to either fill in gaps or, if they need to, replace players who get too expensive.

Jakob Chychrun suffered an injury setback, yet there’s still time to assess where he figures into the bigger picture. Adding some firepower also allows him to ease into the mix in a more organic fashion. GM John Chayka can determine if Luke Schenn, Kevin Connauton, and/or Adam Clendening figure into the equation, as all of those guys are on expiring contracts.

Few teams enjoy defense corps as promising as the Coyotes,’ which must be frustrating for other teams, considering that many of these players were available through trades or free agency (or falling a bit in the draft, in the case of Chychrun).

Flexibility but uncertainty in net

In many cases, you’ll see a team immediately sign an acquired goalie to a new deal or an extension. One fresh example is Frederik Andersen, who signed a five-year, $25M contract before he stopped a single puck for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Chayka didn’t do that, or at least hasn’t done so yet, after acquiring Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers.

That could cost the Coyotes some extra cash if Raanta converts his strong backup numbers to full-time expertise, yet it also gives Arizona room to maneuver if Raanta doesn’t pan out. This also opens the door for Louis Domingue to prove that he’s either a) more than a backup or b) a backup worthy of another contract.

Cheap, young forwards

The Coyotes’ forward group feels a bit like Derek Stepan, Dave Bolland‘s cap hit, and a bunch of potential.

Max Domi enters the final year of his rookie deal with considerable dollars to either gain or lose, especially if Arizona rides it out without an early extension. Anthony Duclair is just one of other forwards with something to prove.

Dylan Strome could be a nice little bargain if he finally works things out. The Coyotes managed to give him a look without burning a year off of his entry-level contract, so they could get three years at a bargain rate if it all starts to “click” at the NHL level.

Really, the Coyotes are counting on some ifs turning into an emphatic “Yes” or two. Christian Dvorak, Clayton Keller, and Brendan Perlini all have at least two years left on their ELCs, opening the door for the Coyotes to at least fill out roster spots at a discount.

How effective can this group – which also includes some fledgling veterans – be as soon as 2017-18? If nothing else, they should get a real boost from defensemen who can move the puck.

***

Overall, the Coyotes are in an intriguing spot, even if they’ll need to battle to make the playoffs.

From a long-term perspective, the real question might come down to the team’s internal budget. If this team starts to make serious gains, will ownership be able to pay up to keep OEL, Raanta, Domi, and other players?

If the answer isn’t positive, the Coyotes might find themselves in rebuild stages over and over.

At least the foundation looks sturdy this time around.