Born in Swansea, Illinois, Clayton Keller is coming to the 2016 NHL Entry Draft with hopes of proving the doubters wrong. Measuring in at 5’10”, there are concerns about Keller’s size translating to the NHL, but there is little doubt about his skill. High end speed, hockey sense, puck-distribution and a very good ability to create something out of nothing.
He uses that high end hockey IQ to his advantage in the defensive zone, ensuring that doesn’t put himself in a situation where his smaller stature could be an issue. It’s impressive to watch how with a quick lift of the stick of his opposition, Keller takes the puck away then turns to skate out with the puck.
Committed to Boston University next year, Keller will be joining a stacked NCAA programs with eyes on the NCAA title. Joined by USNTDP line-mate Kieffer Bellows, Keller leaves the US National Development Program with the most career points (189) and single season assists (70), and also finishing second all time in points in one season (107) and career assists (118). He point per game rate of 1.73 P/GP with USNDTP puts him third all time behind Auston Matthews and Phil Kessel, which is some pretty good company.
He followed all of these accolades up with a stellar performance at the U18 tournament in North Dakota where he posted 14 points in 7 games leading the United States to a Bronze medal. At no point during the tournament did it seem like he his size was going to be an issue. He was regularly using his speed to create lanes and then used his edge work to dance around the defenceman. That was evident during the bronze medal game where he made 6’7” Canadian defenceman Logan Stanley look really bad on one play.
All of those combined could result in Keller being the second centre taken on Friday after Auston Matthews. Raleigh, North Carolina born Logan Brown may go before Keller, but there is denying that Keller has that high end potential that teams will need to consider. Not taking anything away from Brown, but passing on Keller just because he is too small is a tough decision to be had. The NHL has been slowly morphing back into a game that relays on speed and Keller fits that perfectly, we’ll find out later today who thinks that Keller’s skill is too pass on.