Full disclosure: I had Megan Keller as my top player under 25 this year in part because I was convinced she (and other defenders) would be overlooked by voters. Spoiler alert: I was right. I also had her in the top spot because, well, she’s just that good.
There are plenty of effective big defenders in the women’s game and several big defenders who excel in all three zones, but Keller’s mobility truly sets her apart. She’s the kind of player you want to build an entire franchise around. Keller’s size and skating ability makes her a unique athlete; her puck skills and defensive acumen make her the best young defender in the game, even if she finished four spots lower than she did last year. Yeah, I am pretty bitter about her coming in at the 8 spot. Buckle up.
Keller had a stellar collegiate career at BC highlighted by three consecutive seasons where she led all defenders in the nation in scoring. She is the Eagles and Hockey East’s all-time leader in goals, assists, and points among defenders. Keller is also the second defender ever to be named a Patty Kazmaier finalist three times. That’s a pretty big deal.
The 5-foot-11 blueliner scored 19 goals and notched 24 assists in 38 games as a senior in 2018-19. Keller scored at least 10 goals in three of her four seasons at BC and picked up at least 20 assists in all four consecutive seasons as an Eagle. Honestly, her college career is among the best ever. She was an utterly dominant player in college.
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
After winning a silver medal with Team USA at the 2014 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship, it’s been nothing but gold for Keller. The Michigan native brought home gold at the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019 IIHF Worlds and the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. With each passing year, Keller’s ice time and overall role on the national team has grown to reflect her own development as a player. She has scored six goals and picked up nine assists in 20 games of Worlds competition with the senior national team and was third among U.S. defenders in TOI/GP at the 2019 Worlds in Espoo.
Currently a member of the PWHPA, Keller did not play for any club team in 2019-20. So, we’ll focus on her future impact with the national team. Needless to say, she would be a tremendous asset to any pro team in the world should she choose to play in North America or overseas.
As one of two towering left-shot defenders on Team USA — the other being Lee Stecklein, who is 6-foot out of skates — Keller’s role as a top-four defender on the national team for the foreseeable future is all but guaranteed. The bigger question regarding her place on the national team is what role(s) she will play moving forward.
Keller represents a unique and potent threat to deploy for offensive zone faceoffs at evens and on the power play, but Cayla Barnes appeared to get the lion’s share of ice time on the top unit at Espoo. If USA’s coaching likes rolling with two defenders on the top unit, Keller should continue to see significant PP ice time in major tournaments. Like Barnes and Emily Matheson, she is an effective rover who can attack from the blue line, especially on the power play. Keller is also a great option to play at the top of an umbrella formation with her big shot and ability to take a few strides and attack the net from the high slot.
Keller will be 25 in May, so she could have a good decade of national team duty ahead of her if she manages to stay healthy. What interests me most about her future with Team USA is whether or not she will see will start to eat into Stecklein’s ice time on the penalty kill and at even strength. According to Dave MacPherson’s data at pick224.com, Keller’s eTOI/GP (estimated time on ice per game) at Boston College was 29.10 as a junior and 26.62 as a redshirt senior — she has the engine to play in the neighborhood of 24:00 TOI/GP for Team USA.
Is This Ranking Too High or Too Low?
Too low. Far, far too low. Keller is deservedly in our Top-10, but the 8 spot just feels too low for her, especially because she’s ranked behind Barnes. With that being said, this is her third year in our Top-10. So yeah, she’s definitely something special.
It’s true that Keller is already in her prime at age 24, but that isn’t the only reason why her development has likely begun to plateau.
What are Keller’s weaknesses? She’s incredibly mobile for her size, outstanding in her own zone, responsible with the puck, has an absolute cannon and great vision, processes the game at an elite level in all three zones, and is disciplined and effective with her physicality. She’s the kind of defender you’d make in video game’s “Create a Player” mode. Barnes is younger and still has tons of potential, but the best defender under the age of 25 right now is, in my opinion, Keller. She has it all.
I had Keller as my top player under 25 this year, but she’d be at home anywhere between the one and three spot.