PROVIDENCE, RI: It was about this time last year Kyle Keyser’s life took a remarkable turn for the better. The Coral Springs, Florida native wasn’t born in a “traditional” hockey market, yet plays in the highest tier of Canadian developmental hockey. Keyser impressed the Boston scouts enough to receive an invitation to development camp and the rookie prospects challenge last year, where he earned an entry-level contract by the end of his stint in the prospects challenge.
No doubt motivated by the new deal with the black and gold, Keyser took over the starting goaltender job in Oshawa for the 2017-18 season.
Early in November of last year, Keyser’s play wavered due to a concussion sustained during a game against the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. This contributed to a downswing for the entire Generals team as a whole. By December, their record was a pedestrian 13-17-2-0 after an injury-riddled start to their campaign. Upon his return, Keyser said: “It’s a whole team [problem]. From goaltending to forwards and defense, we’ve just got to put it together…We have the tools in the room, and we’re just learning how to find it and put it together for a consistent weekend.”
Strong goaltending from Keyser, who finished the season with a 3.16 GAA and .904 SV%, backstopped the Generals into a playoff berth by season’s end. Unfortunately, their impressive rebounding run came to an end as they were eliminated in five games by their first round playoff matchup, the Niagara Ice Dogs. Oshawa GM Roger Hunt was quick to praise Keyser despite the elimination: “He was arguably our MVP and certainly bailed us out at times.”
The early exit allowed Keyser and teammate Jack Studnika to temporarily join Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence for the remainder of the P-Bruins’ season. Keyser dressed and participated in warmups, but never saw any real ice time. His time with Providence was cut short, as the baby Bruins were bounced by the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the first round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.
However, the proximity to Boston brought Keyser to Warrior Ice Arena during the Boston Bruins’ playoff run.
Keyser was often the Bruins third—sometimes the only—goaltender available during practice. He was like a sponge, soaking up tutelage from the Bruins’ goalie coaches, starting goaltender Tuukka Rask, and backup Anton Khudobin. “Tuukks and Doby were great people, they were very welcoming to me, welcoming questions that I had for them. I’m just thankful, they helped me with positioning stuff. Even off the ice, just how to handle things, they were just good people.”
In hockey, goaltenders are the hardest to project, but Keyser has been following a respectable development curve. Stylistically, he is a butterfly goalie—relying on position to make not just the initial, but also follow-up saves. Keyser slides post to post with precision and efficiency, crossing the crease to shut down second chance opportunities with his impressive frame and ability to “make himself big” in the net. However, his best asset by far is his puck handling ability. Keyser has an excellent read on incoming pucks dumped by opposition forwards, or by errant pucks coming back into his zone. He then redistributes them with power and accuracy, negating a possible scoring chance or turnover.
While Kyle Keyser certainly earned his entry level contract, he is far from a finished product. His athleticism is good, but not great, and doesn’t separate him from fellow goaltending prospects Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman. Keyser’s glove hand continues to be an area of concern, where shooters would occasionally beat him in drills during development camp. Lastly, Keyser’s rebound control should be his focus during his upcoming season with Oshawa; as a positional goalie, he will need to redirect rebounds into low-danger areas with greater consistency.
Meanwhile, Daniel Vladar will be taking his talents to the next level of professional hockey. After his draft in 2015, Vladar played for the Chicago Steel of the developmental league USHL. Since the 2016-2017 season, he has been playing up and down the echelons of minor professional hockey within the Bruins organization as he refines his talent between the pipes.
The lanky, 6-5 giant spent his draft+1 year as the backup goaltender with the newest Bruins affiliate, the ECHL Atlanta Gladiators. The following year, he took over the starting role accompanied by a modest improvement to his stats. In his first year, his GAA and SV% were 3.89 and .887 respectively, however in the following year, as starter, he improved to 2.96 and .911. After taking the starting role, Vladar backstopped his team to a playoff berth. Unfortunately they drew the eventual ECHL Kelly Cup finalists Florida Everblades, and were bounced in the first round.
During callups to Providence netminders during 2016-17 and 2017-18, Vladar has been elevated to the AHL level and performed extremely well. With a better defensive core in front of him, Vladar elevated his own game, with a 4-0-2 record in 2016-17 accompanied by a 2.62 GAA, .921 SV%. In the following year, Vladar posted an even better stat line, despite an average record of 2-2-0. In his best stat line since his Chicago Steel days, Vladar’s 2017-18 outings resulted in a stat line of 2.23 GAA and .924 SV%.
While tangible statistics are a concrete barometer for some, Vladar’s game reaches beyond the numbers. For those who have seen him in Providence cameos, you understand better than most. Vladar’s play is phenomenal for a 21-year old; while his frame takes up large portions of the net, his agility is remarkable for his size. Not only are Vladar’s legs able to completely seal the bottom of the net when he’s in butterfly, but his “explosive” limbs shoot down pucks earmarked for the top corners of the net. Vladar’s on-ice vision is grade-A, using his flexibility to see around or even over top of screens designed to take away his eyes.
During development camp, his game was the most refined out of the trio of goaltenders in attendance. In both drills and the scrimmage, it was almost impossible for even the most seasoned shooters to slip pucks by Vladar. Regardless of the situation, he brought his best to the rink with admirable consistency and an indefatigable smile.
Indeed, my biggest regret from an amazing experience at Bruins Development Camp was not interviewing the gentle giant.
I’m projecting Vladar’s development to follow this almost exponential upward trend next season. By consistently elevating his level of play to or above his competition, Vladar has no doubt accelerated his own growth and betters himself by always facing tougher competition. The more rubber Vladar sees, the better his record is. I encourage you to look at EliteProspects where I pulled most of my data from; you’ll see the more games Vladar plays in, his overall numbers and record is significantly better than years he plays a backup role.
For the 2018-19 season, Vladar will play in the AHL in a 1A/1B tandem much the same as Subban and McIntyre did for 2016-17. Given the plateau of McIntyre’s development, it would not surprise me to see Vladar get the nod more nights than McIntyre does. Given that McIntyre’s backup last year was from the St. Louis Blues organization a fellow Bruins prospect may be the spark McIntyre needs to continue growing. Friendly competition between the two netminders may preview a possible future tandem at the NHL level if the two Providence goalies continue their current development trajectories.