Clayton Keller – The Next Ones: NHL 2016 Draft Prospect Profile

Clayton Keller

2015-16 Team: USA U18 (#19)

Date of birth: 7/29/1998

Place of birth: Swansea, Illinois

Ht: 5’10 Wt: 170

Shoots: Left

Position: C

NHL Draft Eligibility: 2016 1st year eligible

Twitter: @claytonkeller37

THW’s March Madness Mock Draft: 11

 Other Rankings:

  • Future Considerations: 9
  • ISS Hockey: 12
  • Hockeyprospect.com: 12
  • THW’s Pike Picks: 10

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Buckle up When Keller Is on the Ice

While everyone focuses on NTDP-alumni and possible top pick Auston Matthews, undersized and speedy center Clayton Keller is constantly moving up the pre-draft rankings. He was the top scorer of the U.S. U18 team and is meanwhile considered a top 15 pick at least.

I had the pleasure to follow Keller at the U18 World Championship and at the U18 Five Nations Tournament in the course of the past year and I have to admit that he is one of my favorite prospects in this year’s draft class. Keller is a player who is an absolute treat to watch. He can score highlight-reel goals and set up plays with magnificent passing. His pass is very crisp and accurate. He uses his strong passing skills combined with outstanding vision and awareness of teammates. He is a constant threat in each of his shifts and creates a lot of scoring chances. Keller is the type of player which coaches send out when the team is in need of offense.

Keller is not only a great set up and pass first guy, he can also finish off plays. His shot is powerful and he possesses silk-smooth hands. He is a great puck carrier and is exceptionally good in tight spaces as he can dance through the offensive zone while still maintaining puck control and keeping an eye on better-positioned line mates. I am also very impressed with his puck protection skills. Although he is only listed at 5’10, similar to Patrick Kane, Keller is not easy to separate from the puck. He can protect the puck effectively against bigger opponents because of his strong skating balance.

One of the success factors of Keller’s strong play is his great skating skills. He is a very smooth skater with good top speed and a quick acceleration in his first steps. Keller is able to shake off defenders with quick turns and constant movement of his feet. He is also excellent when he circles in the offensive zone as he often enters the zone with speed and shows good patience with the puck until he finds the best possible passing lane to set up scoring chances.

Keller’s biggest asset is probably his ability to create scoring chances. He is such a gifted playmaker who can make the difference in any of his shifts. You can always expect something when his is on the ice if it is a fancy move, a great set up or finish off a scoring chance, Keller has it all.

NHL Draft Projection:

Keller is getting selected in the range of 10-15 according to most pre-draft rankings. He has been climbing in the rankings since the start of the season and I can see him cracking the top 10. He has played very dominantly at the two past U18 Worlds and possesses the skills and smarts to even become a top five pick. However, Keller’s lack of size could limit him from getting picked that early.

Quotables:

Keller is a strong, shifty skater with a powerful shot, displaying brilliance and hockey sense strikingly similar to what Marner brings to the ice. And while Marner is a winger, Keller is equally adept at bringing you out of your seat while leaving amazed opponents on the very edge of theirs. He’s schooled amateurs of all ages — U.S. college seniors, European stars, NHL-bound Canadian juniors; it doesn’t matter. He’s a hard-nosed, fearless player with a lot of flash, but he’s been Team USA’s leader and go-to option for every critical situation – defensive zone draws, killing penalties, gaining entry into the offensive zone, etc. Does he have franchise potential? We’ll let you judge for yourself, but keep in mind he’s nearly produced as much as Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews did with the NTDP. Keller is also nearly a year younger than Matthews, who set the NTDP scoring record a year ago with 117 points. If Keller keep his current pace for the rest of the season and through the 2016 U18 tournament, he’ll come close to matching him.

-Steve Kournianos, thedraftanalyst.com

Clayton Keller is a quick skater with an outstanding first step and an ability to accelerate extremely quickly.  He can dart into openings in the offensive zone, creating space to get a pass and get off a quick shot.  Keller’s ability to change speeds on the rush can create nightmares for defencemen.  He also has excellent agility and the edgework necessary to weave through traffic and create scoring chances. The exceptional skating often allows Keller to gain a step on defenders, and force them into taking penalties to prevent him creating a scoring chance. Keller will need to add muscle to his frame going forward though, as he can get knocked around by bigger defenders at this point. He needs to strengthen his core in order to improve his balance and be more effective in the corners and in front of the net.

-Ben Kerr, lastwordonsports.com

Statistics:

Strengths:

  • Vision
  • Playmaking abilities
  • Good in tight space
  • Powerful, accurate passing
  • Skating agility
  • Hockey smarts
  • Creating scoring chances
  • Puck handling skills
  • Puck protection

Under Construction (Improvements to Make):

  • Play around the net
  • Doesn’t get involved in the physical part of the game

NHL Potential: 

Don’t make the mistake and limit Keller due to his small size. He has the potential to become a playmaking and highly-intelligent offensive player who uses his high Hockey IQ, good decision making with the puck and strong passing skills to set up plays. He is hard to separate from the puck and can do dangerous things with the stick, similar to his NHL-comparison.

NHL comparison: Patrick Kane

Risk-Reward Analysis: 

Risk: 2/5   Reward: 4/5

Fantasy Hockey Potential:

Offensive = 8/10   Defensive = 6/10

Awards/Achievements

2014/2015: U17 WHC Silver Medal

2014/2015: U18 Worlds Gold Medal

2015/2016: U18 Worlds Bronze Medal

Interview/Profile Links:

Clayton Keller scouting profile on thedraftanalyst.com

Article on pensionplanpuppets.com

Video(s):

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Shots From the Slot (Interesting Notes):

Keller’s 104 points this season for the NTDP is the second highest points scored mark in a single season for the program. He is just 12 points away from Matthews’ point record from last year. Keller will join the Boston University next season and was drafted in the second round of the OHL Priority Selection by the Windsor Spitfires.

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THW’s The Next Ones prospect profile template design architect: Chris Ralph