Kyle Keyser: The Future Has Arrived

Kyle Keyser grew up in the heat of the Florida sun, but once between the pipes its ice water running through his veins. Coming from Cold Springs, Keyser had to work twice as hard as the kid from Michigan or Ontario just to get noticed.

The opportunity to strap on the pads for Victory Honda Under-16 AAA squad in Plymouth, Michigan was just what the Doctor ordered. The squad boasts alumni such as Alex DeBrincat and Ian Cole. During the 2014-2015 season, Keyser posted a sparkling 2.27 goals-against-average and a .916 save-percentage. Those numbers were even more impressive in the playoffs with a 1.38 goals-against-average and .942 save-percentage.

And, oh yeah, he even got in a game with the Under-18 squad and you guessed it, he shut out the opposition.

Kyle Keyser of the Oshawa Generals. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.
Kyle Keyser of the Oshawa Generals. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Prior to the 2015 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, Oshawa Generals General Manager Roger Hunt made no secret about the fact his Generals were targeting Keyser. But before he could make his selection in the fourth round, the Flint Firebirds pounced and selected Keyser with the 74th overall pick, 4 spots ahead of the Generals next pick.

Keyser would make the Firebirds’ squad straight out of camp, but to call that first season tumultuous would be an understatement. There were some issues surrounding the Firebirds squad that led to a five-year suspension on their owner, we won’t re-hash here, but they are well documented. Still, Keyser posted a 4.37 goals-against-average and a .880 save-percentage. And yes, all things considered, those are respectable numbers.

As the 2016-2017 season approached and a cloud hanging over the Firebirds, Keyser decided to ask for a trade. We know that there are those that frown upon a player asking for a trade. Yet, a player has to do what is best for them, especially at that stage of their career. And Keyser is as smart off the ice as he is on the ice as evidenced by his winning the Ivan Tennant Award as the League’s top High School Academic Player

It should come as no surprise that the first person come calling was Roger Hunt and the Generals. Hunt sent the Firebirds their own second round pick in the 2017 Draft back in return for Keyser.

Keyser’s acquisition wasn’t supposed to have an immediate impact with the Generals – It was an acquisition for the future as the Generals were preparing to launch a bid to host the 2018 Memorial Cup. Jeremy Brodeur (yes that’s Marty’s son) was the incumbent number one goaltender in his overage year. Logan Gauthier was penciled in as his backup. But a preseason injury to Gauthier opened the door for Keyser, and as they say, the rest is history.

That 2016-2017 season was Keyser’s draft year. He posted a 3.40 goals-against-average and .891 save-percentage. But as always the case, it was the playoffs that gave proof that Keyser rises up in the big games and is the definition of a money-goaltender.

In our rankings here at OHL Writers, we had Keyser ranked third among OHL Goaltenders (behind Michael DiPietro and Matthew Villalta) for that 2017 Draft. NHL Central Scouting saw it fit to rank him 11th in their final rankings, but we felt confident he was easily a top 10 prospect.

But on June 23-24, 2017 at the United Center in Chicago, Kyle Keyser’s name wasn’t called.

On October 3, 2017 Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney came calling and signed Keyser to a three-year Entry-Level Contract. Under the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, undrafted players can be signed as free agents before the NHL season begins.

The Bruins, who drafted Keyser’s teammate Jack Studnicka in the second round at that same draft, had kept eyes on Studnicka throughout the season and it is evident they saw enough of Keyser to swoop in and sign him to his contract before anyone else stepped up to the plate.

Before entering the 2017-2018 season, Keyser would attend the Bruins Development camp and he did not disappoint the Bruins brass, nor their fans. Keyser would go on that season to post a 3.16 goals-against-average and .904 save-percentage.

But it was a move the Bruins made after his OHL season ended that caught many a Bruins fans by surprise.

The Bruins brought Keyser up to the NHL as their third goaltender during their two round playoff run in 2018 and the learning experience he gained from that can’t be overstated. Keyser credited Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin for not only being helpful in helping him with any on ice questions and thoughts, but also how to act off the ice. This article by Matt Kalman goes into great detail on his time with the Big Bruins.

That was a move I expected the Bruins to repeat once again this playoff run:

 

 

But as Providence Bruins guru Mark Divver tweeted, there could be injuries at play effecting the decision making

 

 

The season that just ended saw Keyser take his game to another level. He appeared in 47 regular season games and posted a 2.75 goals-against-average and .915 save-percentage and was often found on the OHL highlights for the Jane’s Saves of the Week.

It was during the playoffs where Keyser stood on his head knocking out rivals Peterborough and Niagara (who were the overwhelming favorites). By the time the third round had begun, Keyser had the best save-percentage of any starter on over 25 years.

It was going to take a miracle to get past top ranked Ottawa in the Conference Finals and Kyle Keyser was the best chance the Generals had to take even one game in this series. And he gave them just that – a chance. The Generals were outshot 163 to 99 in the series and when you are facing 40 shots a night, well, you get the picture.

His ability to steal a game was no more evident then in game 4 of the series against Ottawa. The 67’s outshot Oshawa 44 – 22 but Oshawa held a 1-0 lead going into the third period. The Ottawa barrage came in the third where they fired 19 shots on goal. With 34 seconds remaining and Ottawa on the powerplay and DiPietro on the bench for an extra attacker, Ottawa would tie the game and send it into overtime. But you can’t stop them all. And the 67’s would win the game 20 seconds into overtime.

No one was more heartbroken then Kyle Keyser. He should hold his head up high. He did more then could be expected and we believe the are great things ahead for him as he turns professional.

The accolades Keyser received from the OHL hockey minds were there as well. In the OHL’s Coaches Poll, where they only vote on two categories for goaltenders, Keyser was picked as the best puck-handling goaltenders in the Eastern Conference after finishing second last year and he finished second for the second straight year as the best shootout goaltender.

Today, OHL General Managers voted him second as Goaltender of the Year behind Buffalo Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

Finally, we have to bring up the World Junior Championships. I was adamant in my belief that Keyser should be the starter for the Americans, and he rightfully earned the opportunity to start the tournament. He appeared in two games for Team USA but lost the crease to Cayden Primeau. But it wasn’t because of his performance. Keyser was dealing with an illness leading up to game three and he never took to the crease again.

So, what can the fans of the Providence Bruins, and eventually the Boston Bruins look forward too?

Well, you are going to be hard pressed to find a more competitive netminder at this level and one that puts the necessary work in to become all that he can be. I know the Keyser family is extremely grateful for the opportunity the Bruins gave Keyser, and his “I won’t let you down mentality” combined with his competitiveness and work ethic will make him a force to contend with.

Kyser is an athletic netminder with superb lateral movement and quickness to go post-to-post. He darts out to the top of the paint quickly to take away the net. His angles and ability to direct shots out of the danger zones are very good. His glove is also very good and he is superb with his blocker – with an uncanny ability to “punch” the puck to a teammates tape all the way out to the blue line.

At 6’2” Keyser has good size. He tracks the pucks extremely well and if he can’t see over a screen, is able to track it looking around the screen. When the puck is below the goal line, his head is constantly always on a swivel, knowing where not only where the opposition is at all times, but where his teammates are as well so that if he has the opportunity to put the puck in a place for his teammates to retrieve it, he knows where they are.

When it comes to goaltenders, proper development and sufficient time to develop are keys. I for one am in favor a lot of times with a goaltender spending a year in the ECHL before going to the AHL for further development. In the ECHL Keyser would get more starts and face more pucks and still receive the coaching from the Bruins goaltending coaches.

But the Bruins are in a position where they are going to have to make some decisions. They are set at the NHL for at least another year with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. But the situation in Providence is a little different. They’ll have to make a decision on Zane McIntyre who will become a Group 6 unrestricted free agent on July 1. There is also Daniel Vladar in Providence and if McIntyre is brought back, those two will battle it out for ice time. That means Atlanta (if the Bruins extend their affiliation with them) might be a spot for Keyser. Or they could loan him to another AHL team much like the St Louis Blues loaned Jordan Binnington to Providence a year ago.

I have no doubt the Bruins will make the right decision for everyone involved.

 

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