I for one am not a big believer in re-drafts. If an NHL team covets a player, they select him at the spot they think he deserves to be picked at and hope the development goes as expected. It doesn’t always turn out that way.
In my annual draft rankings of Ontario Hockey League players eligible for the NHL Draft, I ranked three goaltenders I thought for sure would be drafted back in 2017. In order of my rankings, they were: Michael DiPietro, Matthew Villalta and Kyle Keyser.
DiPietro was drafted with the 64th overall pick by the Vancouver Canucks while Villalta went 72nd overall to the Los Angeles Kings. Keyser however, went undrafted and the Boston Bruins signed him as a free agent after losing Malcolm Subban on the waiver wire to the Vegas Golden Knights.
I had two other goaltenders ranked in Jake McGrath, who is no longer playing hockey and Kaden Fulcher, who signed as a free agent with the Detroit Red Wings moments after the Bruins signed Keyser.
Back in April 2020, I had the chance to chat with Keyser and along with my good friend Kirk Luedeke, put together a piece on Keyser. You will find he is an intelligent person and he knows what he has to do to be successful. You can give it a read on The Scouting Post.
As I said at the beginning, I’m not a fan of re-drafts. But this isn’t about a re-draft, it’s more of a question I have had since that weekend at the United Center in Chicago: How could Keyser go undrafted?
Obviously, I have followed the career paths of DiPietro, Villalta, Keyser and Fulcher since they first broke into the OHL and have continued to follow their careers since then. I want to look at their careers to date following that 2017 draft and compare Keyser to the two goaltenders that were selected.
The 2017-18 season saw all three goaltenders return to their squads in the OHL. Under the NHL/CHL agreement, unless they played for the NHL squad, there was no other option unless they went to play in Europe.
In the chart below, I look at the three goaltenders beginning with the 2017-18 season, their draft plus-1 season, through to the end of last season. While I include stats such as won-lost and goals-against-average, I don’t put much stock into them as they are more team stats than an individual goalie stat. I am going to focus on save-percentage. Now, the analytics people are going to ask about shot quality. Well, we’re not talking about the NHL here. This is Major Junior, the ECHL and AHL where defense doesn’t necessarily come first. Besides, you won’t find much in the way of advanced analytics at those levels of hockey, so you’ll have to judge for yourself if it’s important to you. I am not going to go into detail about DiPietro’s 2 NHL games. They are what they are – a young goaltender thrown to the wolves.
Keyser went into that 2017-18 season with a bee under his bonnet and to prove he was worthy of his contract signing with the Bruins. Keyser had his best season to date in the OHL with career best totals in every category. However, it was DiPietro fresh off a Memorial Cup win that took home OHL Goaltender of the Year honors and named to the OHL first all-star squad. For his part, Villalta took a major hit in his save-percentage in the playoffs for a Soo Greyhound team with Memorial Cup aspirations going from a .908 save-percentage in the regular season to .893 in 24 playoff games. Villalta was named to the OHL third all-star team. It was never about personal accolades for Keyser. The Team always comes first.
But Keyser was only just beginning.
The 2018-19 season saw DiPietro traded midway through the season to the Ottawa 67’s, a team looking for a Memorial Cup. That did not materialize for the 67’s and DiPietro saw his season come to an end after 11 playoff games where he posted a .914 save-percentage. For Villalta, it was another disappointing end to his season where his save-percentage took a major hit in the playoffs going from .903 in the regular season to .885 in 11 playoff games.
For Keyser it was a different story. He proved he was a big game player. He came up huge in the playoffs for his Oshawa Generals going from a .915 save-percentage in the regular season to .925 in 15 playoff games. No one I know gave the Generals any hope of winning that series against DiPietro and the 67’s. In fact, yours truly wrote in a playoff preview that for the Generals to win even a game, Keyser was going to have to have a monumental performance. If you read that article in The Scouting Post, you’ll see I called that game 4 overtime loss by Keyser one of the best playoff performances I have ever seen in 45-plus years of following the OHL.
DiPietro won the best goals-against-average in the OHL that season while Keyser was named to the OHL second all-star team.
That season also saw Keyser (Team USA) and DiPietro (Team Canada) named as starters for their respective countries at the World Junior Championships. Unfortunately, a hit to the head virtually knocked Keyser out of the tournament. DiPietro won Gold with Canada (USA won Silver), had the best goals-against-average in the tournament and was named top-3 player for Canada.
All three netminders turned pro for the 2019-20 season. Unfortunately for Keyser he battled injuries and was limited to just one ECHL game and 6 AHL games.
Of course, 2020-21 was the pandemic season and it’s hard to break it all down with all that changed for that season.
Which brings us to this upcoming season and why this is Keyser’s biggest opportunity to shine.
As you all know by now, Tuukka Rask will be out until January or February, if he returns at all, and that means Jeremy Swayman will be at the very least, backing up Linus Ullmark for the big club. Callum Booth is likely headed to the Bruins ECHL affiliate, the Maine Mariners. That means the net is Keyser’s to lose. The Bruins likely want to give Keyser as many starts as possible to further his development. He’ll be pushed by veteran free agent signing Troy Grosenick, who could be the first callup to Boston if there is an injury in the crease, so the Bruins will likely want to keep him sharp.
Keyser has done all the necessary work to take the next step and I for one know he is chomping at the bit to get it all started. Those of you that have followed me over the last few years know that I am a big believer in Keyser’s potential and that he can be an NHL goalie. And with all that’s happened in the last two seasons, his time starts now.
Finally, I want to give a big shout out to Keyser’s mom – Kimberly Fairbanks – who moved Kyle from Florida to Michigan back in 2013 to further his hockey career. You should be very proud.
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