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Draft Prospect Keller Has Skill and Smarts

by Callie Parmele / Colorado Avalanche is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo on June 24-25. Clayton Keller is the No. 9-ranked North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings. The Avalanche has the 10th overall selection at the draft.

Clayton Keller has an ability to create scoring chances with speed and smooth hands and is likely to be selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft.

The center has spent the last two seasons as a member of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and is rated as the ninth-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.

Keller collected 107 points (37 goals, 70 assists) in 62 outings this past year, the second-highest total ever in a single season in the NTDP's history. The forward also registered 82 points (34 goals, 48 assists) in 60 games during the 2014-15 season (45 contests with the Under-17 Team and 15 with the Under-18 Team).

His 189 career points are the most ever in the NTDP record book, surpassing current NHLers Phil Kessel (180) and Patrick Kane (172). Still, Keller remains humble in regards to his achievements.

“I credit that success to my teammates,” he said of his accomplishments to the official USA Hockey website. “Obviously, they have to help me get points. I try to just play my game and not think about it. I want to play well in all three zones.”

Standing at 5-foot-10 and 168 pounds, Keller has a smaller stature and tries to use it to his advantage.

“I try to model my game after [Patrick Kane],” he said to the International Ice Hockey Federation's official website during last month's Under-18 World Championship. “I think we play a similar game. Obviously, small guys are having a ton of success now. I think it just goes to show that it’s not all about size. It’s whether or not you’re smart enough and your hockey IQ is good. That’s what some of the smaller guys have and some of the bigger guys don’t.”

The Swansea, Illinois, native represented the United States at both the 2015 and 2016 IIHF U-18 World Championships. Keller was the top American scorer and was named the Most Valuable Player at the 2016 tournament, where he recorded 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in seven games and helped his country win a bronze medal. In 2015, Keller ranked ninth among scoring leaders with nine points (four goals, five assists) in seven contests and earned a gold medal with the U.S.

He finished his U-18 Worlds career in the top five in all three major offensive categories for the United States. He is first in assists (15), second in points (23) and fifth in goals (eight).

“He’s probably, if not the smartest, one of the smartest guys I’ve coached or been around since I’ve been with the NTDP over the last six years,” said Danton Cole, the head coach of the US National Under-18 Team. “He’s got a scorer’s drive where he really wants to score on every shift. But where he’s really done a good job is in the weight room.

“His dynamic component really gives him some separation, and that’s changed over the last year. He spent a lot of time in there. All of a sudden, if he can create 10 or 12 feet, he’s going to make a good play. He’s always on the attack and he’s a tremendous competitor.”

Keller has committed to play next season for the Boston University Terriers, who have won five NCAA championships. The center had three assists in Team USA’s 7-4 win over the Terriers in an exhibition game last October.

“Just being able to play…at BU was really special. The facility was awesome,” he said of the trip to Boston. “I met the trainer and spoke to coach David Quinn. We got to eat in the dining hall, so I got to experience what we will do next year.”

However, before he travels to Boston to start his freshman year, Keller’s next step is the draft in Buffalo.

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