SASKATOON — With a unique hockey background, Saskatoon Blades rookie forward Jordan Keller is already demonstrating an impressive intelligence for the game.
“He understands where to be,” Blades assistant coach Dan DaSilva said. “I know he was a centre growing up and we’ve had him play wing this year. Just based on his hockey IQ, he’s been able to adapt. We’ve had him back playing centre for us. He can kind of go back and forth without missing a beat. It just speaks to his intelligence on the ice and how smart a player he is.”
Keller is the son of Aaron Keller, who played 17 seasons professionally in Japan, according to eliteprospects.com. The elder Keller also suited up for the Japanese national team and played a season in the U.S. minor pro ranks. Jordan Keller was born in Japan and got his start playing hockey there. Of his dad’s playing days overseas, he said, “It was cool watching him play.”
His father suited up for his hometown Kamloops Blazers and won two Memorial Cup national championships with the Western Hockey League squad. Aaron Keller now has a development coaching role with the team. Jordan Keller watched a lot of Blazers’ games as a youngster in Kamloops.
“Watching the Blazers play growing up, it was my dream to play in the WHL,” he said. “It’s really cool to play for the Blades.
As of Jan. 31, the 17-year-old Keller has 18 points through 42 games. He ranked in the top 16 among WHL rookies in both goals (seven) and points.
“Obviously, he’s a super talented kid and he works hard every day,” DaSilva said. “You barely hear a peep out of him, but he’s there. He’s working. … A very low maintenance player from a coaching perspective.”
The assistant coach praised Keller for his overall skill. Keller scored twice in an early November win against Brandon. He recorded two assists in a contest versus Medicine Hat in December.
“He can really rip the puck,” DaSilva said. “He’s got a really good shot. Good hands. Good vision and then, like I said, that hockey IQ. Knows where and when to make plays and when to maybe manage the puck and just get it deep.”
When asked about what has allowed him to produce points as a rookie, the 5-foot-10, 156-pound Keller said, “I think it’s all about the confidence and obviously I’m playing with some great players, so that helps a lot. Staying around the boys and being comfortable with everything has really helped me a lot.”
Last season Keller played for Abbotsford’s Yale Hockey Academy. He also saw action in eight games for the Blades. He scored once in those contests. That WHL experience last season has helped him during this campaign.
“It helped me a lot getting my confidence up,” Keller said. “It’s a lot better than coming in this year for the first time. It’s always nice to have a couple games in.”
Moving from the prep ranks to major junior hockey is definitely a step up. Keller said you need to adapt to the physicality of the game.
“You’re playing against a lot bigger and stronger players,” he said. “It’s all about how you prepare for every game and how you play the game differently than in [prep].”