A late-riser on many draft boards, Clayton Keller may be gone long before the Canadiens walk to the podium to announce their pick at 9th overall. While his skill has always been undeniable, it was thought by many at the beginning of this year that his small stature would push him back towards the middle of the first round. This season however, he has exceeded all expectations leading his team in scoring by a wide margin, and also leading Team USA in scoring in both the 5-Nations and IIHF U18 tournaments. Many pundits may think that another undersized center is the last thing the Habs need right now, but, his elite offensive skills may prove too tempting to pass up.
Weight: 163 lbs
NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters): 9th
ISS Hockey: 12th
TSN (Button): 6th
TSN (McKenzie): 10th
McKeen’s Hockey: 11th
Hockey Prospect: 9th
Future Considerations: 7th
Keller dominated league play this year with 107 points (37 goals, 70 assists) in only 62 games in the USHL. His 70 assists broke Patrick Kane’s NTDP record (single season) and he also finished with the most all-time career points (189), breaking Phil Kessel’s record. As if that wasn’t enough, his 107 point season is the second highest of all time, surpassed only by Auston Matthews (117) – who is nearly a year older than Keller despite them being part of the same draft class. Suffice it to say, Clayton Keller knows how to put points on the board.
His offensive prowess is led first and foremost by his great playmaking skills and skating. His passes are hard and slick; he has a way of finding teammates where even they themselves are surprised to see the puck on their tape. He has good acceleration and top speed with elite balance and cuts – his puck possession is much improved by his agility and he can often slalom through crowds instead of taking a full, momentum stopping hit. His shot is also well above average with good power and accuracy, and a quick, deceptive release.
While known more for his offence, Keller has a solid two-way game mainly due to his superior hockey sense. He is used on defensive draws, the penalty kill and is very adept at zone-entries and transition. If he was 6’2” he would be a top 3 pick without question; and, given that smaller players that don’t mind getting dirty like Clayton are having more and more success in the new, faster NHL, we may look back on this draft and ask how he wasn’t.
Keller thinks and plays an NHL-ready game already; but, needs to add a good bit of weight to his frame. Luckily, he has committed to Boston University next year where he will have plenty of time to hit the gym and add some bulk while being part of a very strong program with lots of elite talent. If he decides to eschew the NCAA for some reason, his rights are held by Windsor in the OHL, where good friend Logan Brown plays – and who are currently the only team guaranteed to be in the Memorial Cup next year as hosts. Either way, Keller is at least a year away, if not two – although, if he keeps improving at the rate he has been, it could be possible to see him get some games as early as 2017-18.