As players who are both in the early stages of their pro careers, Arizona Coyotes centers Christian Fischer and Clayton Keller are still getting their feet wet in the National Hockey League. But they are doing it side-by-side, just as they have for the last several years.
Fischer and Keller were both part of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) during the 2014-15 season. Now, these two are together again with the Coyotes. They are a part of a large contingent of young players — many of them American — in Arizona looking to take a step forward this season.
The 2018-19 season marks the second full season these two will share the ice in Arizona. They both played a few games at the tail end of the 2016-17 season, but each played their first full season together in 2017-18.
Last season, both were two of the main cogs in the Coyotes’ offensive machine. Keller, a Chesterfield, Missouri, native, tallied 65 points with 23 goals and 42 assists. Fischer, a Chicago native, had 15 goals and 18 assists.
Fischer and Keller played last season alongside two other Americans under 25 years old in Boca Raton, Florida, native Jakob Chychrun and Palos, Illinois, native Christian Dvorak. They got a taste of the ups and downs that come with playing in the NHL.
“When you first come into the league, there are so many scenarios where you’re not sure what to do,” said Fischer, who helped Team USA to a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship. “It’s a whole different game once you get up here.”
Thankfully for Fischer, he had players like Keller to lean on. These two young players spend plenty of time together as roommates. Fischer, who is a little more than a year older than Keller, sees himself as the father figure in the relationship.
“I have to get him in gear sometimes around the apartment,” Fischer said. “But he’s a good roommate, we have fun together and have that good USA Hockey connection.”
This season, more young Americans stepped into the fold. Arizona brought in Chicago native Vinnie Hinostroza and Milwaukee native Alex Galchenyuk. These two come in having NHL experience under their belt.
“Our team chemistry is the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Fischer said. “You see us developing into a big family.”
Through the first nine games of the season, the Coyotes managed to stay right around .500 thanks in part to players like Fischer and Keller. Fischer scored four goals in the first nine games, Keller, meanwhile, had a team-best six points (4 goals, 2 assists).
To go along with the young American players, Arizona features a group of more seasoned players with U.S. ties. Defenseman Alex Goligoski has played in the NHL for more than a decade and has been along for the ride as these young players grow and develop.
“When I signed with Arizona, I knew where they were at as an organization,” said Goligoski, a Grand Rapids, Minnesota, native. “We’re getting to the point where these younger guys are growing and we’re becoming more competitive.”
On offense, the young Coyote players can lean on center Derek Stepan. He’s in his ninth season in the NHL and second in Arizona.
“The older guys have been great at taking us under their wing for anything from a third-period situation to an offseason workout,” Fischer said. “They made it all about being comfortable here.”
The group of Americans in Arizona is large and continues to grow as the Coyotes drafted Eau Claire, Wisconsin, native and NTDP alum Ty Emberson in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft. As the Americans continue to come in, they continue to have that chance to bond over their experience with USA Hockey.
“Whenever a guy from the U.S. gets traded here, it’s a great chance to talk with these guys and talk about all the same things we’ve done,” Fischer said. “It’s pretty cool that we all get to have those same experiences.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Fischer skated in 179 career games with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, tallying 76 goals and adding 83 assists for 159 points.