Since Jerry's on hiatus for a bit and there's a NHL Draft coming very soon, here's a surprise, out-of-nowhere prospect profile. Fittingly, it's for a player who could very well be a surprise, out-of-nowhere draft pick. He's not even ranked by Central Scouting Services. If you wanted a sleeper for this draft, then look no further than right winger Tyler Kelleher.
Who is Tyler Kelleher?
Almost immediately in his profile at Elite Prospects, you will learn one reason why Tyler Kelleher wasn't ranked by Central Scouting Services or many other services. Kelleher is listed at 5'6" and 148 pounds. The man is small. Now, small players have had success in the NHL and there will be plenty more. However, those smaller players, like Brian Gionta or Tyler Ennis, were superior talents with considerable upsides. Given that neither has been associated with Kelleher, then he's been overlooked quite a bit.
Shortly thereafter his vitals, you'll see his scoring numbers and almost immediately realize he shouldn't be dismissed so quickly. Look at these numbers.
Kelleher was a fantastic offensive player with the United Stated National Team Developmental Program U-17 and U-18 teams. In developmental play, he was the scoring leader on the U-18 team in this past season and the U-17 team before that (J.T. Compher had more total points but he split time with both teams). Against USHL teams, he did lead the team in points in 2011-12 but not in 2012-13, but he was still quite productive. The USHL league site does have stats that include shots. From there, we learn that that he shot at 18.7% when he was the team's scoring leader in 2011-12, but only 13.2% in 2012-13 with fewer shots (68 compared to 91) and fewer games played (26 compared to 36). So he wasn't so hot in this past season, but still managed to contribute quite a bit in a shorter period of time. Clearly, he was still an offensive player for Team USA.
He was also named to the USA U-18 team that won silver at this year's World U-18 tournament and finished behind Compher and Tyler Motte (Matt did a profile on him last week) in scoring. With his time with the USNTDP junior team in the USHL, he was Kelleher isn't big but he lit the lamp so often and provided enough helpers that I think he warrants a second look.
Like most players who go through the USNTDP, Kelleher will go through the college route. He committed to the University of New Hampshire. According to university's athletic department, he will join the team in the 2013-14 season. Additionally, Kelleher was born on January 2, 1995, so he did turn 18 through the season. He's not really a young prospect but he's not all that old either.
What Experts Have Said About Tyler Kelleher
Again, this is a week of long-shot prospects and so opinions aren't so readily available. However, there are two experts of note. The first is Chris Peters of United States of Hockey. Since Kelleher did come through the USNTDP and represented the nation at this year's World U-18s, he had a knowing take on the player. Here's what Peters wrote about him before the tournament began:
The NTDP’s leading scorer this year is going to be a key part of Team USA’s scoring attack in Sochi. At 5-6, 154, the size may seem like a concern, but once he gets going, it’s pretty clear 5-6, 154 are just numbers. No, he won’t push anyone around, but he’s going to be tough to catch and even tougher to hit. With good speed and creativity, Kelleher combines both to generate a lot offense and get to where he needs to be to score. His 26 goals and 52 points are both team highs for the U18s this year. He can be awfully exciting to watch with the puck on his stick
In a way, some of this is expected. If you're as small as Kelleher, then you better be quick to make a difference on the ice. Additionally, as the gaudy point totals suggest, he's got some skills with and without the puck to go forward. To follow up, here is Peter's take after the tournament ended:
As the NTDP’s leading scorer this season, Kelleher probably needed to be a little more consistently productive in the tournament, but he did manage six points to tie for third on the team in Sochi. His puck skills and speed are notable, but at times the size factor came into play for the 5-6 Kelleher. He still did a good job of getting to the net front and actually ended up scoring a couple of the tougher goals of the tournament off of net-front scrambles. He wasn’t ranked by Central Scouting and it’s going to be tough for a lot of teams to overlook his size. He has the puck skills to play at a high level, but we’ve seen a lot of similar players get passed over.
It's not an effusive opinion, focusing much about his size. It's good that he went hard to the net; but I get the sense that while he was rewarded on some occasions, on others, he did not because he can't establish physical presence. It's worth noting that Kelleher was not the only small player on the United States' roster in that tournament. So for Peters to project him as a seventh rounder at best suggests that his ceiling may be low on top of his small stature.
The second opinion on Kelleher comes from a man who knows all about prospects and is willing to highlight a prospect even if everyone else doesn't for one reason or another. That man is Corey Pronman of the Hockey Prospectus. He actually included Kelleher in his top 100 prospects at 97th, and wrote the following opinion about the player at HP:
Kelleher is one of the more interesting prospects in this draft class. He is an immensely gifted offensive player, and he was a top scorer for the US National Team, yet he provides very little physical game value. A team may take a risk and draft him based on his tools, or he may go undrafted. He is a very good skater, with easy plus speed and acceleration to go along with great standstill agility. He is also a gifted puck possessor who can flash between above-average and high-end puck skills, displaying plus playmaking vision. He finds ways to create scoring chances with his great offensive instincts. However, he is very small, at 5'6", and he will not seek out high traffic areas, which is concerning for a player at that height. One NHL scout criticized his tendency to try to do too much, with the caveat that at 5'6", a player must have zero issues to merit consideration.
Those last two sentences should really hammer home the point why size matters to a degree in hockey. A person's frame can't be taught. It can be filled out, but it can only hold so much strength. A player can be aggressive as he wishes, but if his body can't back it up, then it could be a hindrance. Even if he turns out to be a very skilled forward at the next level, it's unlikely he'll never get into battles for the puck along the boards or near the crease. It's even more unlikely a defending player won't try to knock him off the puck.
That all said, Pronman does note that he's got offensive game. He can move real well - which is a must, given his small stature - and he's very skilled with the puck. It's heartening to read that Pronman thinks well of his ability to maintain control with the puck and to dish it out as needed. I wish there was something about his shot and whether or not he can play defense. But at least he's got some notable skills.
A Little Video
There are a handful of videos of Kelleher scoring at the U-17 level from 2013. Here's what I could find from the World U-18s that isn't an entire game uploaded to YouTube: a shootout goal in the semifinals against Russia. (Yes, the IIHF uses shootouts to determine playoff games.)
An Opinion of Sorts
His size is a detriment and even if he tries to bulk up (and he should anyway), strength and toughness would be a concern at higher levels. As I stated earlier, smaller players can and have made it in the NHL, but it really takes a very good player to get there. In Kelleher's situation, he will have to demonstrate that his offensive prowess displayed at the U-17 and U-18 levels can translate to higher levels of hockey, beyond UNH. He will also have to show that he can defend, he can take some physical play when it does arise, and continue to utilize his speed as the game gets faster.
Based on Peters, Pronman, and his production, there's some reason to believe that this is a possibility. You really couldn't ask for more from what he did with the USNTDP in the last two seasons and he produced well against some of the best U-18s in the world. Pronman and Peters both noted that he's quite good with the puck, possibly to a higher level. I don't think it's unfair to presume that said skill led him to put up so many points in the last two seasons, even when the pucks weren't dropping in at such a high rate. I certainly wouldn't mind if the Devils take a flyer on a player with that pedigree with their sixth round pick. Again, the team does need offensive forwards in the system and he would help fill that dearth even despite his size. I would think the Devils would let him stay all four years as needed. Should he continue developing into a scorer (and perhaps some other skills), then he could very well get picked up for Albany first and then go on from there. It's not exactly glamorous, but should he keep proving himself, then a low-risk sixth round selection could very well turn into some kind of reward. I'd rather take that chance with the guy who frequented the scoresheets so much for the last two seasons, than someone who might do that.
Now that you've read all this about Tyler Kelleher, what do you think of him as a prospect? How surprised were you in finding out he's so small yet so big in stats? Would you mind if the Devils drafted him with their last pick in the draft? Do you think he'll get drafted at all? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Tyler Kelleher in the comments. Thank you for reading.