Team USA 4, Princeton 1
Princeton (The Draft Analyst) — Kieffer Bellows scored twice off two gorgeous plays created by Clayton Keller as Team USA’s Under-18 team beat the host Princeton Tigers in an exhibition game on Saturday, 4-1. Keller and Bellows combined to break a scoreless tie during a power play early in the second period, with Keller backhanding a pass through the crease to an open Bellows for a one-timer into a yawning net. Trent Frederic converted a Will Lockwood feed just seconds later to give Team USA a 2-0 lead heading into the final period. They would increase their lead to 3-0 in the final frame when Keller blew past two forwards to create a 2-on-1 before feathering a saucer pass to Bellows for an easy tap-in. Left wing Keenan Suthers sealed the win with an empty net goal, and Jake Oettinger stopped 18 shots to pick up the win. David Hallisey scored for Princeton.
19 – C CLAYTON KELLER (Boston University): Everybody knows Keller can score. That much has been pretty evident throughout his stellar amateur career, highlighted thus far by last month’s dominant U18 Five Nations where he led the blue chipper-filled event in scoring by a wide margin. But there’s a lot more to the Boston University-bound center’s game than just piling up points. Keller was simply unstoppable against Princeton, which tends to defend its own end relatively well on. On Saturday, however, the Tigers’ defense corps of 20-somethings consistently fell victim to his panoply of moves. Time and again, we saw Keller extend shifts well beyond two minutes, then come right back on the ice after a brief respite to anchor a power play or penalty kill. Keep in mind that he isn’t the kind of kid who gets cheated – this tireless worker gets his money’s worth on every shift, competing for pucks whether it’s within reach or 50 feet away. Our favorite part? Keller keeps his head in the game at the end of every shift; he’ll involve himself in a play even if he’s dog tired and on his way to the bench. This kind of selflessness is extremely rare for star player at any level, and you wish they all did it.
Keller displayed his puck wizardry throughout the evening, beginning with a no-look, cross-ice backhand feed through a maze of players to Kieffer Bellows for a one-time snipe. He later used his speed to jet into the offensive zone and create two chances while shorthanded – one to sneak a backhander on goal, the other to split the defense, kick the puck from skate to stick, then break in alone on what should have been a penalty. Keller put the game out of reach with a gorgeous saucer pass over a stick on a 2-on-1, which Bellows buried cleanly. He nearly scored a goal of his own when he toe-dragged during a one-on-one to create time and space before clanging one off the bar. Simply a star performance by a two-way star in the making.
22 – LW KIEFFER BELLOWS (Boston University): Bellows has a reputation for being a goal scorer with a lethal shot, and against Princeton, both were on display. The fact that he was on the receiving end of Keller’s magic means little to us – Bellows has buried the puck at every level regardless of whom he flanks. His stick is always in the right position, which is a hallmark or NTDP-trained players. But only a handful of the program’s last few scorers can truly bring it like Bellows, who last year scored 33 goals as a 16-year-old for the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede. He can move the puck as well, collecting the puck behind his own net and zipping up ice while warding off a checker with a free hand. Bellows then shifted gears along the red line before cutting against the grain to enter the offensive zone cleanly.
And like Keller, Bellows was relentless on the forecheck, attacking pucks and using his physical abilities to easily interdict his opponents from their desired destination. The future BU Terrier is still only 17, but his snarl and the way he manhandled Princeton’s physically-mature defensemen makes us think he’s a lot closer to the NHL than the significant majority of his draft class. We’d be remiss if we didn’t remind the general public that he is the son of former NHL all-star Brian Bellows, who during his career was one of the game’s top scoring wingers after being selected second overall by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1982 NHL Draft.
8 – RHD ADAM FOX (Harvard): Overly-impressive performance by the most skilled attack-minded blueliner the NTDP displayed. A Nassau County native who will attend Harvard in the fall, Fox was the offense’s lead quarterback during both even-strength and on the power play, but it was during the man advantage when he flashed both pro-level passing and excellent patience with the puck. Princeton’s penalty killers clearly had problems dealing with his trickery and foot work, and he continued to twirl and whirl away from danger to create time and space for himself. And he wasn’t doing pirouettes for style points – we assessed them as calculated plays designed to evade contact and dupe the enemy into thinking his intent was to hold on to the puck as long as possible. In actuality, Fox (with his head up at all times) was dishing the puck cleanly all over the place, thus allowing Team USA to dictate the tempo of what began as a very sluggish affair.
From a defensive standpoint, we caught him puck-gazing a few times while Princeton was going back door (surprise, surprise, Mr. Carill) on the few times he overcommitted. The good news is that he’s a fantastic skater who uses his speed to impact the play, which he did on several occasions throughout the evening.
17 — RW JOEY ANDERSON (Minnesota-Duluth): Another one of Team USA’s two-way forwards, only he was playing on the top line along with Keller and Bellows. Anderson was consistent with his awareness, specifically in the offensive zone where he always seemed to keep his feet moving and position himself properly. During Team USA’s first power play, the 5’11 Anderson fooled the whole rink when he raced to corral a hard-around before stopping short and letting it slide to point man Chad Krys for the cleaner, smarter play. It might read like a minor detail, but it’s the kind of hockey sense you look for in a teenager. He’s got tremendous speed and a fearless mentality, which helped on the PK unit and later to draw a penalty during a straight-line bull rush towards the net. He fired wide a few times off some nifty set-ups, so it’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses. Ten goals in 26 games may not seem like chopped liver, but he should start filling the net more once you consider his zone starts and his top-line minutes alongside Keller.
10 – RW WILL LOCKWOOD (Michigan): Speedy and involved winger who hustled throughout the night and took control of the puck time and again thanks to advanced anticipation. Lockwood only knows one speed, and he had no problem creating opportunities because of it. He can be considered undersized (5’11/172), but his balance and physicality sort of render the measurements useless. He was on Team USA’s second line with center Trent Frederic (Wisconsin) and James Sanchez (Michigan), and earned an assist when he set up Frederic for 11th goal of the season.
4 – LHD JOSH TEVES (UDFA/1995): Teves had a solid game considering how often Princeton’s defense were pressed from the opening faceoff to the final buzzer. He’s the Tigers’ most gifted blueliner from an offensive standpoint, and manned the left point on their power play. Teves always had his head up, and whipped passes with both accuracy and authority. You can easily forget that this kid is a defensemen judging by the way he skates and handles the puck. The points will be hard to come by since his team collectively struggles to score, but we stand by our previous assessment that this former BCHL’er is a diamond in the rough who simply put a lot of stock into a superior education.
21 – LW RYAN KUFFNER (2016 Eligible/1996): Ottawa native had a quiet game on the scoresheet as did the rest of his teammates who simply couldn’t get it going offensively. He’d been red hot by Princeton standards entering the contest (seven points in 11 games prior to Saturday). But Team USA’s structured, puck-possession system held him in check, and even with a fair amount of offensive zone starts and time on the power play. Kuffner is still a quick forward with good size (6’1/185) who can make plays off the rush, so fighting through the muck and mire inherent in the “half-court” game will make him a more desirable prospect.