Coasting near the right circle, Clayton Keller hesitated before dishing the puck across the slot to linemate Kieffer Bellows, who lit the lamp with a quick dangle and shot into the net.
Bellows’ second goal of the night gave the U.S. National Team Development Program U-18 squad a 3-2 lead over Boston University — but rather than jeers, the Agganis Arena crowd showered the Edina, Minnesota, native with applause.
After all, it’s a sight that BU hockey fans could become accustomed to next season.
Both Keller and Bellows are set to join BU for the 2016-17 season — providing a lethal scoring punch in what is shaping up to be an imposing recruiting class for David Quinn’s Terriers.
The duo showcased the very tools that have vaulted them into first-round discussions for the 2016 NHL Draft, each notching three points in Team USA’s 7-4 exhibition win over BU on Friday.
Skating off the ice with a win stood as the primary takeaway for Keller, but he admitted that is was also encouraging to gauge his new surroundings on Commonwealth Avenue.
"It was awesome being able to play here for the first time," Keller said. "Seeing the rink and a little bit of the crowd, it was something special. I thought our line had a really good game. We worked off each other and we battled hard and we got rewarded."
Another glance at Bellows' second goal of the night. Once again, set up by a great pass from Keller. pic.twitter.com/J6ksrWeMTq— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) October 17, 2015
As the mainstays of Team USA’s top line, both Keller and Bellows have been able to generate instant chemistry with their contrasting styles of play.
With a keen eye, soft hands and creative mindset, Keller often finds himself orchestrating scoring chances for the NTDP. Standing in at 5-foot-10 and 168 pounds, Keller tries to model his game after Patrick Kane — especially in regards to how the Blackhawks star overcomes his small stature by dictating the pace on offense.
Armed with a heavy shot and a knack for finding the puck, Bellows has made his mark as a potent sniper in the slot — setting the USHL record for most goals in a season from a 16-year-old (33) with the Sioux Falls Stampede in 2014-15.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to the Bellows family. Kieffer’s father, Brian, was a three-time All-Star in the NHL, scoring 1,022 career points while clinching a Stanley Cup title with the Canadiens in 1993.
"He means everything to me, on and off the ice," Bellows said of his father. "He’s my best friend. We love to hang out in the summer. … . He’s the guy that got me to skate, put skates on my feet at a young age."
It may not have been a perfect transition at first, but both Keller and Bellows have gelled as teammates, with the former often serving as the primary set-up man on the latter’s tallies.
"It took us a few games to get used to each other, but after that, I think we really started to work off each other and move pucks," Keller said. "Kieffer’s got a really good shot and he’s a goal scorer, so I just find him and he usually always scores."
Bellows added: "Clayton and I, once we have the puck on our stick, we know we can do some damage."
Through Team USA’s first 11 games this season, Keller and Bellows have separated themselves from the pack, ranking first and second on the team in scoring with 20 and 16 points, respectively.
Another look at Bellows' goal — assisted by Keller. Impressive stuff from two BU commits. pic.twitter.com/idvqAuO345— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) October 16, 2015
Long before the duo was racking up points together with the NTDP, Keller and Bellows were already linked by their college commitments.
Keller announced his intention to join the Terriers after his first season at the prestigious Shattuck-St. Mary’s program in 2013, while Bellows revealed his own commitment a year later after helping Edina High School capture its 11th state title during his sophomore season.
Both Bellows and Keller — a native of Swansea, Illinois — hail from regions that a Northeast program like BU isn’t necessarily known to pry many recruits from.
While either forward likely could have committed to one of the many collegiate powerhouses in the Midwest, both admitted that they were swayed upon visiting BU and interacting with Quinn and his staff — especially lauded recruiters in Albie O’Connell and Steve Greeley, who now works in the New York Rangers organization.
"As soon as I stepped on campus, I fell in love with it," Bellows said. "At the start, I didn’t really think about BU, and they contacted me and as soon as they did that, I kind of thought about it and I went out here. Coach Quinn, Greeley … and Coach O’Connell, they really made me feel like I was already a part of the family."
Keller and Bellows certainly won’t be alone when they join the Terriers, as goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Chad Krys are also expected to make the jump from Team USA to BU in 2016-17.
For Keller, who also suited up with Oettinger and Krys last season with the U-17 team, getting the chance to play college hockey with three of his NTDP teammates stood as an opportunity too enticing to pass up.
"I think that’s awesome," Keller said. "We’re all really good friends and we hang out all the time, so it will be really special to spend a couple more years with them. It’s something I’m looking forward to."
It can be hard to not look ahead to college, but both Keller and Bellows reinforced that they are focused on the present and committed to honing their development with the NTDP.
"I feel like that separates us," Bellows said of Team USA’s training regiment. "We all work very hard and we’re working out every day to just become bigger, stronger, faster. I mean, you can see how we are against college teams; we’re right up there. We can play as fast as them; we can be as strong as them. It’s a great program."
Keller and Bellows — listed No. 10 and No. 14, respectively, in Hockeyprospect.com’s 2016 NHL Draft rankings — are aware of the extra pressure that comes with playing as a premier prospect in a top-tier program. However, neither forward is dwelling on the future.
"It’s hard nowadays, with social media and everything, to kind of stay away from that stuff, but we do a good job with that," Bellows said. "We like to focus on what our team’s doing, how well we’re doing and working out every day. No one in here is focused on the NHL draft, we’re all focused on that U-18 gold medal."
There was no clear-cut factor that pushed either Keller or Bellows to commit to the Terriers. Rather, it was a multitude of aspects — including tradition, a stacked incoming class and a proven pipeline of Terrier alums in the NHL.
Regardless of the cause, both players did little to hide their enthusiasm at the thought of donning scarlet and white sweaters next season.
"Seeing the players that have come out of BU — [Jack] Eichel, obviously, and [Kevin] Shattenkirk — all those top guys that went here," Keller said. "They really said great things about it and I’m really looking forward playing here next year."
Bellows added: "It’s very exciting. We’re both focused on this season mostly, but you can’t not be excited just to come here and play and see where you’re going to be after next year. It’s a historic program."