Bruins prospect interview: Kyle Keyser

Dominic Tiano did the bulk of the work here to do up the background post and track B’s undrafted free agent goaltender Kyle Keyser. We’re both glad to give you the most current update on a player who came from a non-traditional hockey market, but who played his junior hockey with one of the OHL’s most storied franchises- the Oshawa Generals. The Gennies, who most recently won the Memorial Cup in 2015, are responsible for producing some of the top Boston Bruins players in franchise history: Rick Middleton, Terry O’Reilly, Wayne Cashman, Marc Savard, Nathan Horton and…Bobby Orr. Without further ado, enjoy this post and interview about one of the more unheralded prospects in the B’s organization. With Tuukka Rask firmly entrenched as the No. 1, but getting a little long in the tooth, the Bruins must start looking to the future in net, and Keyser deserves greater attention despite not having been drafted.- KL

Goalie #38 Kyle Keyser of the Oshawa Generals

Photo: Brandon Taylor/OHL Images

A future NHL goaltender from Coral Springs Florida?

Hockey was gaining steam in Florida and more and more youngsters were getting into the game at the time Boston Bruins prospect Kyle Keyser was. But very few were willing to strap on the pads with visions of guarding the 4 X 6 cage at the National Hockey League level.

Keyser finds himself at the doorstep, but it has not been the traditional route you see goalkeepers take.

As a 14-year-old, Keyser made the move to Michigan to play Bantam AAA hockey for Belle Tire for the 2013-14 season. The following year, Keyser guarded the net for the Victory Honda Under-16 team. He even got into a game for the Under-18 squad and all he did was shut the door stopping every shot he faced.

Prior to the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, Oshawa Generals General Manager Roger Hunt had his sights set on drafting Keyser and made no secret about it. But the Flint Firebirds selected Keyser with the fourth round, 74th overall, four spots before the Generals would make their selection.

Keyser would appear in 17 games during his rookie season and was named the Ivan Tennant Memorial Award as the top academic high school player.

But prior to the 2016-17 season, Keyser asked for a trade and there was no doubt Hunt would get his netminder. Hunt would give Flint back their own second round pick at the 2017 Priority Selection to acquire Keyser.

Keyser’s NHL draft year was his first with the Generals where he posted a 3.41 goals-against-average and .891 save-percentage. And much like it has been throughout his career, his numbers are always better in the playoffs as he posted a 2.37 goals-against-average and .937 save-percentage- A true money goaltender.

Many independent scouting services had him ranked for the NHL Draft. NHL Central Scouting had him 11th among North American goaltenders. Yours Truly had him as the third ranked goaltender from the OHL behind Michael DiPietro (Round 3, 64th overall – Vancouver Canucks) and Matthew Villalta (Round 3, 72nd overall – Los Angeles Kings).

No one really knows why NHL GM’s didn’t call his name at the draft. However, the NHL CBA allows teams to sign undrafted prospects to an Entry Level Contract prior to the start of the NHL season and on October 3, 2017 Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney did just that, inking Keyser to a 3-year deal. The Bruins saw enough of Keyser to make the decision an easy one that season as they drafted Keyser’s Oshawa teammate Jack Studnicka in the second round, 53rd overall.

The 2018-19 season saw Keyser take his game to yet another level, having his best regular season to date. But as I said earlier, Keyser is a money goaltender and during the Generals playoff run stood on his head leading his team to playoff wins over the rival Peterborough Petes and the heavily favoured Niagara IceDogs. It was going to take a miracle to win the Conference Finals over the Ottawa 67’s and few, if any, gave the Generals any chance of winning the series. Keyser had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years heading into the series. But Keyser gave his teammates just that – a chance. The best performance I had ever seen from Keyser was in game 4 of that series. Leading 1-0 going into the third period and his team being outshot 24 – 18, Keyser put on a performance to be remembered during the third period as the 67’s pelted the netminder with 19 shots while the Generals mustered just 4.

But with less then 3 minutes remaining in the third, things fell apart in front of Keyser. William Ennis took the dreaded delay of game penalty and just a minute later, Nico Gross took a checking to the head penalty leaving the Gennies two men down. With DiPietro on the bench for an extra attacker and skating 6 on 3, Keyser turned aside chance after chance and tracked the puck like a bat tracks an insect.

With just 34 seconds remaining, Tye Felhaber would tie the game and send it into overtime. Still on the powerplay, Felhaber would win it just 20 seconds into overtime.

With junior hockey in the rearview, Keyser completed his first season of hockey with limited action in Providence of the AHL and Atlanta of the ECHL, looking forward to the 2020-21 as a springboard to his continued development.

Kirk and I had the chance to talk to Keyser in a question and answer session:

The Scouting Post: With all that is going on in the world today, first off, I hope you and your family are staying safe and well, have you begun any offseason training or will that come later on in the summer?

Kyle Keyser: Fortunately, with all the craziness going on in todays society, my family and I have been fortunate to be staying healthy amongst the uncertainty and challenging times that we face in the world today. It has obviously been disappointing to all of us with the season being postponed and not being able to be at the rink every day with the boys. I have started my off-season training with as many resources as I have available with keeping a conscious mind of prioritizing staying smart and healthy with workouts at my home. We have an excellent strength coach in Providence with Timmy Lebossiere, which he has been providing us at home workouts to stay heathy and in shape during these trying times. I’ve been working out 6 days a week trying to maintain good levels of strength and conditioning through his programs but the actual hard training aspect of summer won’t begin until things have resolved or slowed down with COVID-19.

TSP: Your path so far is not what you’d call a typical one, especially for a goaltender. What, as a kid from Coral Springs Florida, got you into the game and what possessed you to become a goaltender? Which goaltender did you admire growing up and do you try and model your game after him?

KK: Growing up in south Florida is not a traditional path for most people but has really allowed me to evolve into the person and goaltender that I am today. I grew up around the rinks as my older brother, Spencer, got into the game at a young age so it was natural for me to be around hockey all the time as I grew up and I fell in love with it around 3 years old and never stopped looking forward. I grew up idolizing Martin Brodeur as my favorite goalie and he was the person I constantly watched as I was growing up. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really started to watch Tuukka (Rask) and Sergei Bobrovsky as people I enjoy watching and molding my game after. This season unfortunately I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to, so I took the down time to really study a lot of their film and watch every one of their games when I was able to. I bought the NHL subscription pass to be able to watch all the Boston and Florida games whenever I could to see how they play different situations and break down their game film.

TSP: I’ve been following the OHL since the early 1970’s and I can honestly say one of the best single game performances from a goaltender I’ve seen was your game 4 performance versus Ottawa in the Conference Finals in 2019. I’m not sure you are aware of this, but heading into that series, you had the best playoff save-percentage in 25 years. Despite losing 2-1 in overtime, it was a performance to remember. What do you remember most about that game?

KK: Game 4 vs Ottawa was one of the most fun times I’ve had playing hockey. The entire playoffs, I was on an extreme adrenaline rush of playing the highest level of hockey and just trying too help our team make it as far as possible. In regards to that specific game, I felt that I was in a zone that only an athlete would be able to understand. I was doing my best to help our team’s season continue and move as far as we could. It was such an intense hockey game and series that I knew I had to play the best hockey of my life to give our team a chance to win that game. We fought extremely hard throughout the entire process and game and unfortunately, we came up a bit short. I wanted to win that series and game so bad that I knew that the only way to do that was being at my best. The hardest part of the game was knowing that if I didn’t perform my very best, that I was never going to be able to play another game in that uniform for my teammates and management, which puts a lot of things in perspective. I just wanted to go out and leave every ounce of energy and heart that I had to make sure I could give us a chance to win the game and crawl back into the series one game at a time.

TSP: In 2019, OHL coaches voted you as the best puck handling goaltender, after finishing second a year earlier. In today’s game, removing the trapezoid could have a huge impact. Do you have an opinion on whether it should remain or stay in the game?

KK: In regards to the trapezoid, I believe its an incredibly important part of the game and I wouldn’t want to remove it because it keeps the goalie in a safe environment where they know they won’t get run over or injured. Playing the puck sometimes puts you in vulnerable positions as a goalie and by removing it, I think you’d find a lot more injuries for goalies trying to help their team, which I’m all for keeping goalies more safe. I love playing the puck and being active to help our team escape sticky situations, but removing the trapezoid would increase unnecessary risk and I think its necessary to keep players and goalies protected without changing the integrity of the game.

TSP: Beyond the obvious speed/skill/age-experience factor of shooters, what have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your transition from major junior to pro hockey?

KK: I think the biggest difference is how smart the players are in pro hockey. You’re always trying to be one step ahead of your opponent at any level and its just that much harder when the players are that much more skilled. There’s not a big discrepancy in the first and fourth lines in pro hockey, so you have to be aware and alert at all times when they are coming at you regardless of who is on the ice. Another huge challenge is living on your own for the first time and being able to manage being an adult while focusing on hockey all the time. Making sure you’re eating the right foods and cooking good food to allow yourself to be at the highest level is definitely a challenge when you’re doing those things for the first time. Its a huge adjustment in learning how to balance everything in your life and making sure that you’re doing that at an elite level to be able to perform your best with a clear mind.

TSP: As the game continues to evolve with the ever-increasing speed and skill of the skaters and greater structure/systems and innovations teams are employing to improve scoring, what are some of the things you and your goalie coaches are doing to improve fundamentals like skating/footwork, hands, athleticism and even some of the tactical in-game strategies you can use as a goaltender to ensure you are on top of your game?

KK38: I think the biggest improvement and area of focus for me this year with our goalie coaches was working on the positioning aspect of the game. You find out quickly that some of the things you got away with in juniors, won’t work at the next level. I’ve always relied on my athleticism to make a lot of saves but I’ve tried to improve on using my size and positioning as the base for most of my saves in allowing myself to be square to the puck. I know that I can use my athleticism if I need to but I don’t want that to be my default in all situations. I want to have good strong positioning and patience to be able to make easy saves and then use my athletic and explosive abilities to make saves that would require those skills. Using my positioning has been a main emphasis point of focus to allow myself to be ahead of the play and then using my athletic abilities as a last resort to make saves instead of using that as my foundation.

TSP: Who are some of the best shooters you’ve faced in your career to date, and what about them made it so difficult to defend/prevent them from scoring?

KK: Just from my experiences in training camp, some of the hardest shooters to stop would be guys like (David) Pastrnak and (Brad) Marchand. The reason is that they’re so good at not giving away where they’re going to shoot the puck and they’re always keeping you guessing. As a goalie, you’re always looking to gain an advantage in reading shooters and their tendencies but when shooters of their caliber are as unpredictable as they are, it makes it very difficult to read what they’re going to do or where they’re going to shoot. You really have to challenge yourself to be patient on your feet and make sure you’re in the best possible position to give them the least amount of space and net to shoot at because most times, if there are holes in your positioning, they’re going to exploit those areas and make you pay. Those two guys have always been difficult to stop and read from my past three training camps in Boston.

TSP: What has your experience in the Bruins organization been like with regard to the coaching, player development and person-to-person interactions you have received since signing with the team? Who has been the most instrumental in your development as a player and person?

KK: My experience so far in Boston has been nothing short of incredible. From top to bottom, the organization is first class in their staff and how they treat each and every player. Whether you’re a perennial 50 goal scorer or on an entry level deal, they treat every player with the same amount of respect and honesty, which goes a long way. I have been extremely fortunate to know that they will always put me in good positions to succeed and give me all the resources I need to play at the highest level. Coach (Bob) Essensa and Coach (Mike) Dunham, the two goalie coaches in the organization have been instrumental in my success and ability to grow. They have helped me understand different aspects of the position that I wasn’t aware of the importance. They have allowed me to grow tremendously as an individual and as a goalie by always encouraging me to improve and try new things that I didn’t know I needed to.

As an athlete, you’re always working on things to get better and reach the highest levels and those two guys have always been right by my side to provide me with insightful information and new things to help me accomplish that, so I know without their guidance, I would not be in the position I am today. They’re so great at being genuinely great people and always dropping everything if I ever needed anything whether it be from a hockey or personal aspect of life. I’m very grateful for their support and guidance throughout this journey thus far and I’m excited to keep working with them every day and growing as a person and goalie.

We want to thank Kyle Keyser for taking the time to share his insights with us here, and to 3 Amigo Dom for setting it all up and providing the analysis in this post.


Brodeur postscript

I wrote this cover story for the April 2011 edition of New York Hockey Journal. Since I referenced the time period in my tribute post to Marty Brodeur, I thought I would provide it here for added context.

NEWARK, NJ— If the New Jersey Devils have a glimmer of hope of reaching the 2011 postseason, then a major source of that optimism resides with goaltender Martin Brodeur.

The 38-year-old first ballot Hall of Famer is in his 18th NHL season, all with the team that drafted him 21 years ago has weathered the storm of uneven play and injuries early to reestablish his superstar credentials at just the right time. Through it all, Brodeur sparked his team not only by finding his four-time Vezina Trophy form down the stretch, but with his easygoing style and eternal optimism.

“Nobody expected us to fall in the tank like we did early,” Brodeur told New York Hockey Journal after a March practice. “It was disappointing; there’s no doubt about that. Knowing what we know now, I wish we could go back and play these first 41 games.”

Brian Rolston is one teammate who got to know Brodeur when both were young players less than a year apart in age, winning the team’s first Stanley Cup in 1995. Rolston was traded away few seasons later, but returned to the Devils as a free agent after playing most of the last decade against Brodeur.

“He’s always on an even keel and never gets too high; he’s always in control,” Rolston said. “I went away for a few years and came back, but saw how he’s still real competitive in practice. He’s got that same kind of competitiveness with the even-keeled personality so it’s a good mixture for a goaltender.”

If the 2010-11 campaign has been the toughest challenge of his storied career, you would not know it to hear him speak. Where many of his peers who play the position might have shown overt signs of cracking under the tremendous pressure after the Devils stumbled, the player who never posted less than a .902 in any of his 17 full seasons remained confident in his team’s ability to turn things around.

Fast forward to March, and with Jacques Lemaire back for his third stint behind the New Jersey bench, he’s steadied the ship by getting the Devils to within single digits of a playoff berth. Much of it stems from the fact that he’s shown steadfast faith in the player who backstopped his only championship as an NHL coach.

“Marty’s an important piece of the puzzle on this team,” said Lemaire. “He’s a guy that will give us the chance to win. He’s a guy that can make the big saves in a game that gets us closer to come back in the game, gets us closer to win games. He gives us a chance to stay in and do what we have to do.”

This season has been one of extremes for Brodeur, as he mirrored the team’s struggles early, only to turn it around in stunning fashion. From November 15 through January 1, Brodeur went through the most dismal stretch of his career, going 1-10 with a 3.85 GAA and .851 save percentage. In 2011, he’s posted a 15-3-1 record with a 1.70 GAA while stopping 93 percent of the shots he faced since January 1.

‘We got ourselves back,” Brodeur said. “Not necessarily close enough now, but the games matter. And I think that was the thing back in December- everybody was afraid that we’re just going to have to go through the motions here. That’s got to be awful for everybody. We were able to pull it through with a pretty major streak we got together to get to this point.”

To the surprise of no one, the NHL’s leader in career games (1123) wins (622) and shutouts (114) saved his best hockey for when it matters most. With Brodeur manning the nets for the Devils, the team may or may not reach the playoffs for the first time since 1996, but he’s given his club a fighting chance. That’s something that few would have granted the team just 90 days ago given how bleak the months of October-December were.

“He’s the best ever, so it’s a pleasure to be on the same team with him and be in the locker room every day,” said leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk. “He’s an unbelievable guy; great man who takes care of everybody and the way he treats people around him, that’s impressive. He’s an All-Star everywhere.”

Defenseman Colin White broke in with the Devils as a rookie in 1999-00 when the club won the second of its three Stanley Cup championships. Like Brodeur, every one of White’s 739 NHL games have been played in a Devils uniform. Having gone from a youngster to one of the team’s veteran leaders over the past decade spent with the team gives White quite a perspective on what Brodeur means to the franchise.

“Right away when I came (to New Jersey), he was the backbone along with Scott Stevens (Ken) Daneyko, (Scott Niedermayer) and all those guys,” White said. “Marty came and worked hard in every day. He’s real competitive, challenges himself hard and mentally is very focused on his job and the team. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Brodeur will be 39 when the season ends. He has a trio of Stanley Cups, a pair of Olympic gold medals, myriad major awards including a Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year in 1994 on his resume. Aside from a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, the one individual accolade that has eluded him, he has nothing left to prove other than to add to his seemingly unbreakable records signifying sustained excellence for almost two decades in the sport.

Oh, and there’s the matter of trying to add a fourth Stanley Cup ring to his collection that fuels Brodeur’s inner fire, too.

“I know I don’t have much left,” said Brodeur. “For me this is enjoyable. This is what I know, my whole life I’ve just been doing this. So, I just want to keep it going. Everybody’s dream is winning the Stanley Cup, and that’s why I’m still here, because I believe we have a chance to do it.“

Should the Devils reach the 2011 playoffs and earn the shot at one more championship, it will be in large part because New Jersey’s franchise icon put up a Hall of Fame-worthy push when his team needed it the most.

Martin Brodeur’s No. 30 to the rafters

I’ve always had a fascination with goaltenders.

From Gilles Gilbert to Mike Liut, from Pete Peeters to Andy Moog and Felix Potvin…I’ve always had an obsession with those masked men between the pipes.

But when it comes to goalies, there’s one NHL player I’ve always identified with and followed much closer than my hockey idols growing up, mainly because we’re the same age, and he established himself as an elite young NHL goalie at the same time I was graduating from college and entering the active duty military in a career that is finally winding down after nearly 22 years.

That personal journey is one I can sketch in milestones associated with one of the NHL’s true greats at any position, and why the event taking place in Newark at the Prudential Center no doubt has real meaning for so many people who watched him establish a two decade-long record of excellence playing what is arguably the most difficult and stressful position of any in team sports.

Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will bestow the high honor of retiring Martin Brodeur’s No. 30, the latest step in a journey that will soon take the 43-year-old into the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

His career numbers are astounding in a career spent mostly in the Garden State except for a brief stopover in St. Louis, where he was unable to recapture his former glory, but was not quite ready to call it quits.

691 career regular season wins in 22 years (21 of them as a Devil), the most in NHL history.

125 career regular season shutouts, ditto.

28,508 career saves, double ditto.

24 career playoff shutouts, ditto times three.

When I was a kid growing up, I read more than one hockey scribe say that Terry Sawchuk’s career 103 regular season shutouts would likely never be broken. Brodeur crushed that record, though in fairness- when those articles were written, we were in the middle of the fire wagon hockey era of the late 1970s-early 1990s.

There are a lot of things that a player needs to win three Stanley Cup championships (and five SCF appearances) and pile up the kind of eye-popping stats Brodeur did- athletic ability is atop the list, and in his case, it didn’t hurt that he played for one of the most stable, successful NHL franchises as a young player and well past his prime playing years.

But I think what allowed Brodeur to play so well for so long had to do with his mental toughness and ability to deal with the stresses and sheer ups and downs that every NHL goaltender must deal with at some point in their careers, with an even keel that would make most Zen masters turn green (and red) with envy.

Covering the New Jersey Devils for the New York Hockey Journal in the 2010-11 season was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allowed me to be around the team more than just an occasional away game for the first time in my hockey writing career, and allowed me to get to know Brodeur and several of his Devils teammates. On the other- the Devils struggled mightily that season, beginning the year in the basement, then dismissing first-year bench boss and Devils folk hero John MacLean before bringing back icon Jacques Lemaire and making a second half run for the postseason that ultimately fell short. It wasn’t all that jovial a room during that season, especially through the first part of January, but being around Brodeur and the veterans gave me an inside glimpse of why the Devils had such a sustained run of excellence the way they did.

Even in the depths of New Jersey’s position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings at one point, when little was going right for them, especially for Brodeur, the goaltender set the tone by refusing to let the stress and pressure get to him. It wasn’t like he adopted an Alfred E. Neuman “What, me worry?!” attitude, but at the same time- he talked about the importance of the team sticking together when there were a lot of competing factors to drive them apart. “We got into this (nosedive) together,” he told me after one practice in December. “We got to get out of it together or it won’t happen for us at all.”

Fast forward to mid-March and the Devils were knocking on the door of the playoffs. They ultimately would not get in, but the next year they made one final glorious run to the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Final series before bowing out to the Los Angeles Kings in that franchise’s first of two championships in 2012 and 2014. When I asked Brodeur about the turnaround and how much better the team had played since they were cellar dwellers just a few months before, he first gave credit to Lemaire for pushing the right buttons, but then reminded me that the team was making it work together. “You have to row the boat in the same direction if you want to win in the NHL,” he said. “We’re rowing together, and that’s a big thing.”

He delivered both quotes with the exact same, relaxed temperament in two completely different situations. To me, that underscored Brodeur’s otherworldly ability to block out external pressures and distractions and focus on the task at hand. Many goalies talk about the importance of doing it, but few can pull it off the way he could.

So, as they raise his No. 30 to the rafters, I consider myself fortunate to have seen him from start to finish and towards the end, having the chance to watch him work firsthand.

It’s easy to say his records will never be broken, and who knows- perhaps somewhere out there is a kid lugging his equipment bag and pads into a rink somewhere who is focused on the goal of doing just that. Records were made to be broken, after all.

In Brodeur’s case, his legacy will stand the eternal test of time as one of the NHL’s best and brightest.