In seemingly every draft class, there are players that put up a good amount of production and yet are not rated very highly. While production alone only tells part of the story of a player and how they may project in the future, it is a part. Putting points at least suggests that a player is succeeding in their league. While there have been many prospects that have gaudy numbers but do not develop, those that do produce are least worth a look to see whether they might. This is what I think as I think about the prospects of Ottawa 67’s center, Austen Keating.
Who is Austen Keating?
According to Elite Prospects, Keating is a left-handed center who plays for the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League. Keating was born on March 7, 1999, he stands at 6’0”, and weighs 170 pounds. That’s not big, but he’s not small - at least it won’t be as he puts on more muscle and weight. Keating began playing with Ottawa in the 2015-16 season, where he finished tied for seventh in team scoring with thirteen goals and thirty-two points. In this past season, Keating’s production blossomed to twenty-two goals and sixty-three points. Nearly doubling his points was a big jump. It was also good enough to place him second on the team in scoring. Keating also finished second in playoff scoring with two goals and four assists. That’s a very good statline for a player on a team that was eliminated in the first round of the OHL playoffs by Mississauga. Keating has only represented on the international level as a member of the U-17 Canada White team at the World Hockey Challenge in 2015-16.
His production is worth a closer look since a prospect going from 32 to 63 points piques one’s curiosity. For that, let’s go to Prospect-Stats, which is a fantastic resource for stats on players in the three Canadian major junior leagues, the USHL, and the AHL. Thanks to CJ for letting me know about this site.
In the entire 2016-17 OHL season, Keating’s 63 points places him 33rd in scoring - tied with Warren Foegele and Dominic Commisso, but with fewer goals than those two. Keating has put up 46 primary points, which are goals and primary assists. While he nearly averaged a point per game, his primary point per game rate was 0.69. His primary point total ranked 43rd in the OHL among all players and his primary point rate placed him tied for 57th. In 5-on-5 hockey, Keating has put up 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) - the 26th most in the OHL in 2016-17. Those are not bad rankings as that many of the players around and above him are older. The draft eligible players with a higher production rate include Nick Suzuki, Owen Tippet, Gabriel Vilardi, Jonah Gadjovich (who Gerard profiled recently), Jason Robertson, and Matthew Strome. That’s not bad group to be behind.
What’s a bit more concerning is that he has averaged a little over two shots per game. His 22 goals out of 140 shots yields a not-crazy shooting percentage of 15.71%; but a big shooter, he is not. To his credit, Keating’s most common linemates included the team’s leading scorer, Artur Tyanulin; prospective defenseman Joel Hofenmeyer; and prospective forward Sasha Chemelvski. Those two forwards put more shots on net than Keating so there’s an argument that Keating tended to set them up more. Mitigating the lack of a high shooting rate is where Keating fired the puck. Per the heat map at Prospect-Stats, Keating was no stranger to the slot. That’s a good place as any to generate shots and Keating did finish tied for ninth in the OHL among all players with 38 high danger shots. That points to a player willing to get to and succeed in the most defended area of the zone. That’s a positive.
All together, I can see why the point production would cause one to look at Keating. While he isn’t the highest producer among the draft eligible OHL prospects, but he is not so far behind some of highest touted players from that league. He’s not small and he’s not one of the older prospects either. It is a concern he has not been a prolific shooter as his production grew, even though he has been able to get to the middle of the zone for a good portion of the shots he did take. Perhaps he’s more of a distributor. More information will be needed to figure that out.
Where is Keating Ranked?
As Keating primarily played in the OHL, plenty have had a chance to take a look at him. However, he isn’t highly ranked at all. Here’s what I was able to find out:
- NHL Central Scouting Services (Final): North America - 115
- The Draft Analyst (May): 72
- Future Considerations (Spring): 85
- Craig Button - TSN (March): 102
- Jeremy Davis - Canucks Army/The Nation Network: 61
Those that did rank Keating did not rank him highly at all. Jeremy Davis of The Nation Network was the kindest at 61 - even then that’s just at the end of the second round. I’d like to know what Craig Button’s updated list may look like, but I wouldn’t expect a massive jump or decline either way. NHL’s Central Scouting Services weren’t kind to Keating at all: they dropped him him 92nd at the midterm rankings down to 115th. The point is that among the few that do rank prospects beyond a top 30 or 31, Keating is on the lower end. But a ranking is just that; how does he play? Let’s find out from others.
What Others Say About Austen Keating?
Davis at the Nation Network had the kindest ranking and detailed why in a profile post about Keating at Canucks Army. Davis has come up with a metric for draft eligible players: the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS). It’s a projection model that looks at a player’s performance at their level and determines a probability of reaching the NHL. Keating came out fairly well in this metric and, as such, rated him 61st among other prospects. Here’s what Davis wrote about that:
Even so, Keating is nearly a point per game player, in a draft class that has seen far less productive players ranked higher. At 6-feet, he doesn’t have the height disadvantage that often causes productive players to tumble, nor do his scouting reports turn up any glaring character deficits or obvious red flags with his abilities. In fact, by all accounts, speed and intelligence are strengths of his, and he likes to go to the net and clean up plays for easy goal. All of this points to a player who heretofore has been undervalued, and should probably go higher in the draft than previously thought.
It’s a good argument as to why he’s a diamond in the rough. As far as how he ended up in the rough, this is what David wrote about that:
Any perceived problems with Keating – namely consistency and defensive commitment, from what I can gather – are the types of issues that can usually be coached out of a player, if the problem isn’t simply being misunderstood. Blowing the zone early, for instance, is a cardinal sin structured hockey, but if it leads to more goals for than allowed, then the problem is likely being overblown. Still, Keating might not have the skill level to get away with it at higher levels, and so he will need to know when it is appropriate and when it isn’t, if he hasn’t figured this out on his own already. As with so many prospects, it is the team’s responsibility during the draft process to assess whether he is coachable and has a growth mindset rather than a fixed one. The skill and intelligence are already there.
While flaws are, well, flaws; this is somewhat heartening to read about any prospect. It’s one thing to have an issue or two, it’s another if it’s something that can be addressed. If a team has a strong coaching and development structure, then I think an issue like this should be able to be sorted out.
However, the key point that Davis may not have intentionally made is that while Keating may be undervalued, even someone who thinks that way isn’t providing him a high ranking all the same. There could be other questions regarding his game.
With that in mind, let’s turn to Brock Otten, the mastermind behind the blog, OHL Prospects, and prospects who play in the OHL. Keating did make his top 50 OHL prospects list for this year. He just made it in at #31. Like Davis’ profile, Otten has some positive things to say about Keating’s production in 2016-17 and that he’s improved as a backchecker. He also goes into why he isn’t ranked any higher:
So why on earth is he rated 31st among OHL'ers? I think there are projection issues at play here. Keating is only average sized at 6'0, but is far from an elite skater. He really lacks that explosive first step. And while the hockey sense is good, I think there are some questions as to whether the individual skill level is high enough for him to be a top 6 forward at the NHL level. Which would make him a classic tweener in the eyes of NHL scouts. This explains his consistently low ranking (across most draft rankings) despite the production. That said, skating can be improved and I like the improvements he has made to become a more complete player. I wouldn't hesitate to take a chance on him in the mid rounds. Could easily be this year's Taylor Raddysh.
This is more illuminating as to why Keating isn’t any more well regarded. Not having a high ceiling isn’t a positive and can absolutely limit how high a player can go. It’s one thing to be productive but the whole point of scouting is to look at the present play and project out what that player can do. It’s a possibility as to how a player who has not produced as much as Keating could be ranked higher than him. I could see that being a non-starter: if Keating is not a producer at the professional levels, then what can he do? Throw in skating issues and I better understand the lack of buzz about him. That said, Otten does think his skating can get better and he’s ultimately a fan. Between Davis and Otten, I can begin to agree.
While it isn’t much, Steve Kournianos does have a short blurb on each player selected in his complete NHL Mock Draft at The Draft Analyst. Kournianos ranked Keating 72nd in his May draft rankings. In his mock draft, Keating went 77th overall. Here’s what Kournianos wrote about him in the mock:
The stats are pretty impressive for a player who seemed to fly under the pre-draft radar for most of the season. Keating picked up 32 primary points during 5v5, which is more than Isaac Ratcliffe, Ivan Lodnia, Alex Formenton, Nate Schnarr, and he more than doubled what teammate Sasha Chmelevski did at even strength. He isn’t the most graceful of skaters, but watching him wear opponents down and making neat plays off an aggressive forecheck almost makes up for it. Keating is a smart player with the puck and shows patience on his zone entries, keeping his head up and timing his passes almost to perfection.
This is a good summary as any as to what to expect from the player. Not a great skater, but he’s good on the puck, and he’s been productive. I do like the note about his forechecking.
A Little Video
NHL Prospects has plenty of individual highlights of Keating putting up points for Ottawa. It’s something and it shows off what got Keating the attention he has received. I think it may also show off why he hasn’t received any more. First, here’s a video of a hat trick against Oshawa. Keating is wearing #9:
That third goal is an empty netter, but the first two are interesting. The first one shows him breaking away for a one-on-one with the goalie. Keating, well, he’s not really breaking away all that well as the defender almost catches him. He’s not moving with a whole lot of speed. But it works. Keating does well to get a shot off with enough space to get a rebound. He does and that’s his first goal. The second goal features an example of what Kournianos pointed out. Keating gets up in the defender’s area and forces a turnover for his teammates. Keating goes right to the net, stays composed, and taps in a shot before getting piled by the defender he stole it from. It’s a brave play from Keating from start to finish.
Keating was known for more his distribution. So here’s a highlight video where he had three assists against Sarnia:
The very first assist is an excellently timed pass across the crease. Backhand passes can go squirrely, but Keating handled it very well and places it perfectly between the goaltender and the defenseman to set up a nigh-impossible-to-stop goal. The second assist is an even better, pinpoint pass from the goal line to the bottom of the right circle for a score. It was crisp, there was no hesitation, and he put it in the right sport for his teammate (Sasha Chmelevski) to one-time it into the net. The third assist has Keating on the half boards taking a puck from an entry and immediately finding Noel Hofenmeyer at the cent point. The pass was just as quick and it beats a defending Sting player. All three assists were primary assists, all three created goals, and all three are good demonstrations of Keating quickly recognizing what the read is and how to execute the pass.
An Opinion of Sorts
I came away from the profiles, the production, and the videos with a generally positive view of Keating. Yes, his skating is an issue - as shown in the videos, he’s not swift and that can be a problem. Yes, I can see how someone may look at his play and not see whether that can be done at the next level. And from that, I can see how that makes his future questionable since if he’s not an offensive player, then what could he really be? I get that.
At the same time, I think Keating has most of the makings of a solid middle-round draft pick. He’s shown plenty of improvement from his 17-year old season to his 18-year old season, as evidenced by his production alone and what Otten described at OHL Prospects (read the whole ranking). He has been able to get the dangerous parts of the ice for offensive plays. The video clips here and elsewhere on YouTube show a player who’s very good at distributing the puck. The issues described, outside of a favorable projection, could be addressed and improved upon in my view. No, this does not mean that Keating should be taken high in the draft or that he’s some highly underrated prospect. No, this does not mean he’s the future forward that the team needs. But I think he would be a good addition to the pipeline. If he’s one of the Devils’ selections in the third round this year, then I think it’s a fine one to make.
Of course, that’s how I see Keating. You may feel differently. What do you think of Keating as a prospect? Would you prefer him to be picked with one of the third round picks the Devils have? What do you like the most and/or the least about Keating? Please leave your thoughts about Austen Keating in the comments. Thank you for reading.