While the United States have struggled to win at the men’s level in recent years, their junior program could be considered the best in the world. Whether it be multiple U20 World Junior Championships, their constant domination at the U18 World Juniors or their insane amount of talented players at the U17 level, finding future studs in American junior hockey has been an easy feat for the 2010 Olympic silver medalists. A lot of eyes may be on Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin for the upcoming 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but with youngsters such as Clayton Keller ready for the 2016 draft, there are many reasons to be excited if you’re an American hockey fan.
Keller is a 16-year-old centreman from Swansea, IL. Ever since the early midget stages, Keller has been an incredible offensive force, shining in both prep and USHL action. Keller spent his midget days with the legendary Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school in Faribault, Minnesota, the former home of NHL stars Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews. In 2012-13, while playing Tier 1 Bantam with the school, Keller scored 58 goals and finished with 129 points in just 60 games. It was the highest season total out of any prep school player, with TPH Thunder forward Kyle Kawamura coming a mere 29 points behind in second place. The next season, Keller made the jump to the midget level, and while his 77 points were good enough to only land him 26th place in the High School action, it was surely impressive due to the fact that many of the players ahead of him were two or three years his senior.
His impressive stats got attention from the United States National Development team, who signed him for the current season. The USNTDP plays a harsh schedule, competing in international competition and United States Hockey League games throughout the year. Keller has done nothing but impress so far this year, scoring six goals in six games at the USHL level as well as 13 points in 10 development team games, the highest of any under-17 player. The team is currently competing at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sarnia-Lambton, Ont., where Keller is tied with US teammate Nick Pastujov for the tournament lead in scoring with five points.
Keller is consistently the best forward on the ice against skaters three years older, a sign of greatness that is hard to find in most players. While small (5-8/150), Keller is an incredible skater with a great stride and a high top speed. Every time he touches the puck, you can expect to almost always see him make a great play, whether it be a great long range pass or a powerful slap shot.
As a 15-year-old back in 2013, Keller had already announced his commitment to joining Boston University for 2016-2017, but hat didn’t stop the Windsor Spitfires from drafting him in the second round of the 2014 OHL Priority Selection. It was highly unlikely even before he committed to BU that he would go the Canadian route, and with many of the top Americans going through the NCAA route, it only makes sense. The Parise-type forward has a lot to excite fans with at such a young age, and if he’s able to do everything that he does now, just wait until he finally goes pro one day.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter,@StevenEllisNHL.
*Photo from David Romuald Images*