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The real battle for Clayton Keller is about to begin

Ryan Kennedy
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Clayton Keller (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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The real battle for Clayton Keller is about to begin

Ryan Kennedy
By:

The U.S. National Team Development Program star is committed to Boston University, but the OHL's Windsor Spitfires are coming hard - and have one of his best friends on the roster.

BUFFALO - Last night was huge for center Clayton Keller. The dazzling NTDP product went seventh overall to Arizona, giving the Coyotes a player with a Patrick Kane-like skill set. It was also a victory for smaller players, as Keller is one of the few top-10 picks in recent years to come in at 5-foot-10 or less.

But Keller can't rest too much on his accomplishments in Buffalo; he's got a big decision on his hands. Will he play for Boston University next season, or the OHL's Windsor Spitfires? Is the AHL a possibility? There's a lot of intrigue involved.

“Those are all options, including the American League," said Arizona GM John Chayka. "But 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. We're going to have a discussion and see where it goes.”

Here's where the plot thickens: Keller's best friend is fellow St. Louis native Logan Brown, who also went in the top-15 to Ottawa last night. Brown plays for Windsor and the families are tight. The Spitfires also host the Memorial Cup next season, guaranteeing a shot at a CHL championship for Keller. There's also that pro-style schedule in junior that would help Keller prepare for the NHL.

“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. "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.”

On the other side of the ledger you have Boston U. and the Terriers aren't going to give up so easily. Just ask defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who was taken by the Bruins last night.

“I'm friends with Logan but I'm telling you; he's gotta back off," said McAvoy with a smile. "From the positives, you go and you develop physically and you mature. For Clayton, it would be amazing to be a part of the culture that is B.U. hockey. We gotta get him.”

In the Terriers, Keller would be going to an elite NCAA program that has really hit its stride lately under coach David Quinn. For a player that needs to get stronger, the vaunted B.U. weight room would be huge, as would a schedule that allows for a lot of time for work-outs and practice. For his part, Keller is maintaining his NCAA allegiance.

"Right now B.U. is my top choice and I don't see that changing," he said. "That's a great spot for me and coach Quinn is a great guy, he's one of the top coaches and I'm excited.”

The Terriers had a monster first round, with Keller, McAvoy and two other recruits - Kieffer Bellows (NYI) and Dante Fabbro (NSH) - getting selected.

“I was the first one committed, so I did a little bit of recruiting on Kieffer," Keller said. "It's good to have relationships with those guys and I don't think anyone would turn B.U. down.”

But is it all so simple? Before the draft, I was talking to a GM and a senior scout from the same team - one was convinced Keller was going to Windsor, the other to the Terriers. Conventional wisdom suggests that going so high would sway Keller to the Spitfires. Not only that, but he didn't go to a team that traditionally encourages the NCAA route, such as Chicago or St. Louis.

On the other hand, with the crew B.U. has coming in, plus the players they already have, the Terriers could do some serious national damage next season. And the school has a pretty good track record of graduating players to the NHL. What is not up for debate is how happy Arizona is to have Keller in the fold.

“He has excelled at every level," Chayka said. "He played against college players when he was with the program and did a phenomenal job, at times he produced at an even higher level and was more impactful. When you're as smart and creative as he is, size isn't a limiting factor.”

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The real battle for Clayton Keller is about to begin