Clayton Keller had barely touched down in Buffalo ahead of the NHL Draft before the first text messages came through on his phone from Charles McAvoy. Keller, who was selected in the first round (7th overall) last Friday by the Arizona Coyotes, is still unsure of where he’ll play in the fall, as a result, the recruiting attempts by his peers is in high gear.
On the one hand, he has an opportunity to go the college route with a scholarship from Boston University, but he’s also hearing from the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires. Windsor, the host of the 2017 Memorial Cup, owns the 17-year-old’s Canadian Hockey League rights.
Following his selection at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center, Keller admitted the Coyotes could play a role in where he plays the 2016-17 season.
“I think a little bit,” he said. “But right now BU is my top choice, and I don't see that changing. I think that's a great spot for me. Coach (David) Quinn is a great guy, and I don't think you can go wrong with that. I think he's one of the best coaches in obviously one of the top programs, so I'm excited.”
In addition to BU and Windsor, the American Hockey League is also an option for Keller. The 5-foot-10, 168-pound centre spent this past season with the U.S. National Under-18 Team where he scored 37 goals and 107 points in 62 games.
Internationally, Keller represented the Americans at the Under-18 world championship helping Team USA win a bronze medal. Keller’s four goals and 10 assists in seven games saw him win the tournament’s MVP award and land on the all-star team.
McAvoy, the 14th overall selection by the Boston Bruins last week, is pushing for Keller to join him with the Terriers in the fall.
“I say, ‘For starters, you won't have more fun than at BU, you're going to be able to play in front of the student body’,” McAvoy said of his sales pitch. “The amount of pride that comes with that, it's tough to explain how exciting it is playing in front of those guys. From a student standpoint, being one of the guys on campus, who a lot of people look at you different, but in a good way, you're kind of a celebrity. It's awesome.”
McAvoy was part of a successful first round for Boston University – future Terriers Kieffer Bellows (19th overall to the Islanders) and Dante Fabbro (17th to Nashville) were also selected.
Much of BU’s recent recruiting success is thanks to former associate coach Steve Greeley, according to McAvoy. Greeley, who returned to the Terriers from 2013-15 after a stint with the L.A. Kings, is now the assistant director of player personnel with the New York Rangers; however, his message is still passed on to future recruits by the likes of McAvoy.
“I think he's just overall one of the best recruiters in college hockey, someone who played at BU and went through that whole process so he knows exactly how it goes,” McAvoy said. “He's just someone who is such a personable guy, he's just someone that, when you're going through that whole thing, you say 'Oh I want to play for a guy like this.’”
McAvoy says Greeley had a number of selling points when recruiting him from the U.S. National Under-18 Team.
“Just development - you just know that's something you've got to do to get to the next level, you got to continue to grow,” said McAvoy. “All those points about how playing under a guy like Quinn, you won't play under a guy better than that, that's a selling point right there. In all aspects of the game, you won't play for a guy better than that.”
Despite Keller leaning towards BU, it hasn’t stopped his close friend and fellow St. Louis resident, Logan Brown, from selling him on the OHL and Windsor Spitfires.
BU wasn’t the only program to grab headlines on Friday. In addition to Keller and Brown, Matthew Tkachuk, Luke Kunin and Tage Thompson were all graduates of minor hockey in St. Louis marking the first time five St. Louis-area kids were selected in the first-round.
Brown, the 11th overall pick of the Ottawa Senators, just finished his second season with the Spits scoring 21 goals and 74 points in 59 games.
“I’m trying to tell him, you’re going to be a top-10 pick, what are you gonna do going to college?” Brown said the night before the first round. “He’s so good, he’ll be in the NHL some day. Personally I think the OHL is the best route. B.U. is a great option, but I’m really pushing for him.”
Coyotes GM John Chayka told The Hockey News that he’d meet with Keller prior to a final decision being made.
“We want Clayton to be where he is comfortable. B.U. and Windsor are both great programs, I have no issue with either one of them,” Chayka said. “We’re going to have a discussion and see where it goes.”