After finishing behind Cayla Barnes in last year’s Top 25 Under 25, Megan Keller is once again the highest-ranked defender in The Ice Garden’s Top 25 Under 25. Thanks to a brilliant senior season of college hockey, and memorable performances at the 2018 Olympics and the 2019 Women’s World Championship, Keller is back where she belongs on our list — inside of the Top 5.
Defenders who manage to outshine forwards with their play in the neutral and offensive zones are few and far between, but Keller is certainly one of them. The 5-foot-11 blue liner has been a force of nature on the blue line of the United States women’s national team and Boston College for the last half decade.
When you begin reflecting on what Keller accomplished in her four years at Boston College it doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that she was the best defender in the nation during that time. Keller led all blue liners in scoring in her sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. And although it’s true that she played with a lot of elite players — including a lot of Eagles who would join her on Team USA — her ability to make big plays and eat up a ton of minutes was a constant regardless of who she was playing with.
The towering defender finished second in BC in goals last year, scoring 19 in 38 games. The 3.32 shots per game she averaged in her senior season ranked fifth among defenders in the nation. The growth in her game, specifically in the offensive zone, can be witnessed through her ability to get pucks on net. The 3.32 shots per game she averaged as a senior was nearly twice as many shots as she averaged in her freshman season (1.91 SOG/GP).
With this goal against UNH on Feb. 8, Megan Keller became the sixth player in program history to reach 1️⃣5️⃣0️⃣ career points AND also set the Hockey East single-season goals record by a defender.#WeAreBC pic.twitter.com/sjxB6vzn7r— BC Women's Hockey (@BC_WHockey) June 4, 2019
Keller’s ability to score and get pucks to the net from the blue line and to bring her big frame to the front of the net makes her a nightmare to cover, especially on the power play. She led the Eagles with seven power play goals last year after leading the team in power play assists (12) in her junior season. It’s rare for big defenders to show that kind of versatility in the offensive zone, and rarer still for them to also be an absolute wall in their own zone.
Keller finished her collegiate career ranked sixth all-time in points among BC skaters and first among defenders. Remember, this is the same program that produced Blake Bolden, Emily Pfalzer, and Toni Ann Miano. Her 113 career assists are also good for fourth all-time in BC history; only Alex Carpenter, Haley Skarupa, and Makenna Newkirk notched more helpers as Eagles.
Megan Keller, a thread:— BC Women's Hockey (@BC_WHockey) June 15, 2019
▪️ 4x IIHF Gold Medalist
▪️ 2018 Olympic Gold Medalist
▪️ 2019 Patty Kazmaier Top 3 Finalist
▪️ 3x First Team All-American
▪️ 3x Patty Kazmaier Top 10 Finalist
▪️ 3x All-USCHO First Team
▪️ 2x New England Hockey Writers MVP
▪️ 3x All-New England Team https://t.co/TWN44wYQIy
While Keller was establishing herself as an elite blue liner at BC, she was doing the same at the international level as a member of Team USA. She has already earned four gold medals at Worlds in addition to an Olympic gold medal at the age of 23. That, in and of itself, is a testament to her high level of play over the last five years.
Despite her relative youth, Keller has been a core member of Team USA for the past several years. After bursting onto the scene with two goals and three assists at the 2015 Worlds, Keller has continued to produce for Team USA while eating up a ton of minutes at even strength and on the penalty kill. She averaged 21:44 TOI/GP at the PyeongChang Olympics and 20:14 TOI/GP at the IIHF 2019 Women’s World Championship.
At the 2019 Worlds, Keller finished with six points — five primary — and 16 shots. That was a marked improvement on the two points and six shots he notched in PyeongChang. Her 2.12 primary points per 60 minutes (P1/60) at the 2019 Worlds ranked second among U.S. defenders, behind only Cayla Barnes (2.18) — who saw more time on the top power play unit. That 2.12 P1/60 was also good for fourth in the tournament among all defenders.
In a sport that is frequently misunderstood due to open-ice hits being outlawed, Keller is a player who excels at painting inside of the lines with her physicality. When she rubs an attacking forward out along the boards or leans on players in front of Team USA’s goal crease, they definitely feel it. Her strength is also evident in her punishing slap shot, which has a knack for creating chaos and second chances for her teammates around the opposition’s net.
Keller took just one minor penalty in seven games at the 2019 Worlds after earning two minors in five games at PyeongChang and one minor at the 2017 Worlds. She has definitely exhibited greater discipline with her physicality as a member of Team USA than she did in her collegiate career, where she finished with 167 PIM in 151 games.
In 2017, The Ice Garden’s Hannah Bevis described Keller as the future and present of Team USA’s blue line. Two years later that statement rings just as true as it did then.
Given all that she’s already achieved, it’s hard to believe that Keller won’t be 24 until May 1, 2020. As things currently stand, she’s a lock for Team USA’s roster for the rest of this Olympic cycle, at the very least. Keller’s size, skill, and versatility make her a valuable weapon to any coach who stands behind Team USA’s bench. The hockey gods just don’t make a lot of players like her.
You gotta love when two (or 3) defenders connect for a goal. Here's Megan Keller setting up Cayla Barnes to give USA a 2-1 lead against Finland. The secondary assist was picked up by Gigi Marvin, who plays both forward and defense. pic.twitter.com/olsxCXbMmX— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) November 6, 2018
Keller is a native of Michigan, but she obviously has strong roots in the Boston area. She was selected by the Buffalo Beauts as the third overall pick of the 2018 NWHL Draft but has made it clear through her social media that she stands with the PWHPA in their boycott of the 2019–20 NWHL season. However, if a WNHL does emerge in the near future, one has to imagine Keller would be a star on one of its rosters — especially if there’s a team close to either the Detroit or Boston market.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
There are a lot of exceptional young defenders in women’s hockey, but most would agree that Keller is the cream of the crop. As a member of the frequently gilded Team USA, she’s proven to be a dominant player at her position on the world’s largest stage. The numbers she put up at BC are also a testament to her inimitable skill set.
As Keller and others who play her position know all too well, defenders see much less of the spotlight than forwards and goaltenders. With that being said, she deserves to be the top-ranked defender in this year’s Top 25 Under 25. The No. 4 spot feels appropriate because of the caliber of the forwards who finished ahead of her in the Top 5. It’s scary to think that she has not yet reached her full potential. She is well on her way to being an all-time great.