Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller is the youngest player at the World Ice Hockey Championships and yet his ability to dazzle is already an old story.
A few months ago Keller, 18, led the USA in points when it won the World Junior Championship. He had 21 goals and 45 points in 35 games for Boston University this season. On Sunday, Keller netted a hat trick to lead the Americans to a 7-2 win against Denmark in a preliminary round game at the World Championships in Cologne, Germany.
“He’s an incredibly skilled player,” USA forward Anders Lee (New York Islanders) told USA TODAY Sports via cell phone from Cologne. “He sees the ice very well. He creates space for himself and he was making plays all over the ice.”
Keller’s hat trick was USA’s first at this tournament since Craig Smith (Nashville Predators) netted one against Finland in 2013. Rosters in this tournament are filled with experienced NHL players.
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The Coyotes are hoping that Keller, a smallish forward, will mature into scorer similar in style to Chicago’s Patrick Kane.
“He competed real hard, and he did a good job away from the puck,” U.S. coach Jeff Blashill (Detroit Red Wings) said. “And when he has the puck, he’s a real talented player. I think he showed that today.”
Keller said he’s just trying to soak it all in “and learn as much as I can from the NHL guys.”
“We are a fast and skilled team and if we do the little things right, we can be successful,” he said.
The Americans are the youngest team in the tournament, but this is probably the most talented offensive group they have brought to the World Championships in recent years. At 26, Lee is oldest player on the team. He scored a pair of goals against Denmark.
“I’ve known Anders since he played for Green Bay in the (United States Hockey League) and I have a whole new appreciation for him,” Blashill said. “He’s an outstanding player and a winning player. I’m glad he’s on this team because he brings a ton of intangibles – playing the right way, winning puck battles, being hard in front of the net. He’s been a good leader.”
Lee said he and Nelson joke to each other about being the old guys on this squad.
“We’ve had some fun with it but thankfully the young guys are giving me a little bit of respect,” Lee said. “They haven’t razzed me yet.”
He likes having a leadership role.
“This is awesome,” he said. “These kids coming in have a lot of energy. Just a few years ago I was the young guy. Now that I’m the old guy, it’s fun to show them the way.”
Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames) and Brock Nelson (Islanders) also scored for the Americans who play the Swedes on Monday (2:15, ET, NHL Network). Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blachawks) and Dylan Larkin (Red Wings) both had two assists. Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres) had an assist, and now has 13 shots on goal in two games.
“The toughest thing in these short tournaments is finding chemistry,” Lee said. “We had on exhibition game. But we have improved every period….I like our chances a lot.”