By: Chris Picher
Freshmen at Boston University play a pivotal part in the school’s success, especially in high-pressured tournaments. Jack Eichel captivated the nation two years ago and used the special stage of the TD Garden to really showcase his ability as a top NHL prospect. The Hobey Baker winner reset many record books and changed the perception of freshmen in college hockey.
Eichel, a generational talent in the eyes of many, was thought to stand alone as the most impactful freshman at BU for years to come. BU or the country may not see as talented of a freshman as Eichel in quite some time, but Clayton Keller’s impact on the Terrier’s success deserves a comparison.
Keller continued his impressive freshman season on Monday night at the TD Garden as he scored a short-handed goal in the 3-1 win over Boston College. The Terriers grabbed their 19th win of the year (tied for most in the nation) and Keller extended his point-streak to 15 games, passing Eichel’s mark from two seasons ago.
Before the goal, BC pushed the pace creating great chances and they looked to capitalize on the power play, but Keller’s tally halted any momentum the eighth ranked Eagles gained, putting them at bay for the rest of the night. The freshman’s breakaway goal snuck threw the legs of BC goalie, Joe Woll.
“Joe Woll is a guy I played with ever since I was about ten years old so I know his game a little bit and I was lucky enough to slide it five hole,” said Keller.
The short-handed marker proved to be in the nail in the coffin for the Eagles who are winless with just two goals in three games against the Terriers this year. The under-sized Illinois pivot is more than just a point-machine because his goals are clutch and often derailing to an opponent’s gameplay.
Although not nominated for the illustrious Hobey Baker award, Keller’s impact has been second-to-none on this year’s third-ranked Terrier team. He has points in 18 of his 20 games, including 10 multi-point games. Keller missed seven games at the tail end of the first semester with a lower body injury and has a point in every game since he returned. Although Keller just had one on Monday, his ability to impact all three phases of the game makes him such a valuable asset to this team.
“I don’t know if I have coached a guy who has the hand-eye coordination that he has,” said Quinn. “He is such a threat out there he has such great instincts.”
His play making ability and creativity are refreshingly similar to what led Eichel to 71 points and a plus-51 rating in 40 games. Keller lacks Eichel’s rare ability to single-handedly dominate hockey games, which will keep this year’s freshman far away from most of Eichel’s record.
However, Keller fits a need of an elusive forward that can generate offense instantly and creates open ice for teammates with his vision. His 30 points lead the way for the Terriers and the lefty has lived up to high expectations without taking much credit for the team’s success in the process.
Similar to Eichel, Keller has a mature and selfless nature that deflects personal attention about personal accolades, such as the 15-game point streak. “It’s pretty cool, but it’s not something I am worrying about. I think the most important thing for me and our team is the next game,” said Keller.
The freshman is receiving just a fraction of the hype Eichel did two seasons ago, but for Keller and the Terriers that is just as well. Keller has echoed Quinn’s deflection of national accolades and rankings with a focus on the next game on their grueling Hockey East schedule.
The third ranked Terriers travel to #9 UMass-Lowell on Friday night before a quick turnaround to face #4 Harvard in the Beanpot Finals.
This two-game stretch will be the Terriers toughest test in their remaining regular season schedule and, if the last 15 games were any indication, Keller will have his fingerprints all over these two top-10 matchups.