Clayton Keller was selected 7th overall last Friday in the first round of the NHL Draft by Arizona--what could turn out to be a home run pick for the Coyotes. But before Keller heads to the desert, he'll face a tough decision on where he'll play first.
Keller is committed to play at Boston University next season, and the Terriers certainly present a tempting option. Boston University heads into next season among the favorites in Hockey East and nationally, with a strong returning core, and three players beyond Keller that were selected in the first round of this year's NHL Draft, including Keller's NTDP linemate Kieffer Bellows, with whom Keller has tremendous chemistry.
But on the other hand, Keller's CHL rights are held by the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. Windsor too had three players selected in the first round of this year's Draft, including forward Logan Brown, a close friend of Keller that grew up with him playing minor hockey in the St. Louis area.
To add some extra intrigue, the Spitfires will host the 2017 Memorial Cup, meaning even if they get tripped up in the OHL playoffs, they will still receive an automatic bid to the crown jewel of the Canadian Hockey League.
There are pros and cons to both routes. The CHL offers way more games, 68 in the regular season and the opportunity to play in a real playoff, which could potential add another 20+ games. The NCAA route means more time available to spend in the weight room, something the talented, but skinny prospect could surely use.
The Arizona Coyotes, who drafted Keller, might have an opinion on the matter, making this an interesting test case for freshly-hired 27-year-old general manager John Chayka. Though in an instance like this, where Keller is likely to see every opportunity at ice time that he can handle, it probably doesn't matter too much to them one way or another. Certainly not enough to push Keller away from the route he prefers.
There's also the factor of competition. Keller excelled against NCAA competition last season with the NTDP, finishing with a points per game average in NCAA exhibitions that would have put him among the top two or three scorers in the nation extrapolated over a full season. Taking a step down to younger competition in juniors may not provide much benefit other than padding his statistics, similar to the way Mitch Marner dominated the OHL last year.
We drew the comparison to Patrick Kane in our draft profile of Keller, and Keller doesn't shy away from the comparison. "I try to compare my game to Patrick Kane. He's probably the same height as me, and I think I can be as good as him some day," said Keller shortly after being drafted.
Kane was once in the same shoes as Keller, deciding between playing for Boston University and signing with the London Knights of the OHL. Kane eventually chose the Knights, though the mitigating factor of needing to play a half-season in the USHL to graduate from high school--something that doesn't apply to Keller--played a large factor in that decision.
Keller is such a tremendous talent that it likely doesn't matter either way for him personally. He's got the tools, and while the individual merits of each route can be debated, either one is more than good enough to babysit a talent like him until he's mature enough for the NHL.
The stakes couldn't be higher for Boston University and Windsor, however. A player of Keller's caliber can make a huge difference not only for the season or two he is likely to play there, but for years to come in recruiting future players. And both will likely do whatever is within their means to make sure they land the young player.