Clayton Keller had two choices after the Arizona Coyotes selected him with their seventh overall pick this past summer. He could sign an entry-level contract with the Coyotes and head up to Ontario to play with the Windsor Spitfires. Or, he could stay in the United States, forego an NHL contract, and head up to Boston to play in the NCAA.
Ultimately, Keller chose the NCAA. And it’s a choice that makes a lot of sense for him.
In his draft eligible season with the US National Team Development Program, Keller absolutely torched his opponents to the tune of 37 goals and 70 assists in 62 games. As a 17-year old. And in four games at the 2016 National Junior Evaluation Camp, Keller added two goals and five assists.
So as far as scoring goes, Keller has little to prove. And as Chris Dilks from SB Nation College Hockey notes, Keller is already matching up well with NCAA talent:
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.
By heading to the NCAA, Keller would be playing fewer games, but Keller does not have to play an NHL equivalent schedule. He needs to train, build his frame, and continue to develop his playmaking instincts.
The NCAA will give Keller the ability to do just that. He will be playing alongside future NHLers like Charlie McAvoy (Boston) and Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders). And he will also be playing against future NHLers like Ian McCoshen (Florida), Colin White (Nashville), and former Coyotes prospect Maxim Letunov (Sharks).
So Keller will play against high-quality prospects, on one of the nation’s premier college hockey programs, where he can work on weight and endurance training, the two areas that would benefit him the most in preparing for the NHL game.
Clayton Keller choosing Boston University is a smart way to continue his professional development, and it should benefit the Coyotes in the future.