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2016 NHL Draft Profile: Clayton Keller deserves to be in fourth overall conversation

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In recent drafts, some pretty good American-bred prospects have turned into steals in the first round. This year, Clayton Keller might join Brock Boeser, Dylan Larkin and Kyle Connor in that conversation.

Tom Sorensen

Dylan Larkin, Brock Boeser and Kyle Connor might not be well-kept secrets anymore, but they were when dozens of teams passed on them at the 2014 and 2015 drafts.

This year, despite staggering production and an impressive set of elite offensive tools, Clayton Keller hasn't always found himself in the same conversations as CHL-bred prospects Matthew Tkachuk, Alex Nylander, Jacob Chychrun and Pierre-Luc Dubois after the top three of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. But he deserves to be.

This season, Keller led the U.S National Under-18 Team with 96 points in 56 games. And while his production would have placed him in a tie for second on last year's team with Matthew Tkachuk behind Auston Matthews and two points ahead of Leafs second rounder Jeremy Bracco, Keller didn't have the same caliber linemates.

What's most impressive about Keller's season this year is that he led the team in scoring by 22 points, outscoring his next closest teammate (Kieffer Bellows) by what would have been a 33-point margin over an 82-game season (141 to 108).

In the USHL circuit, his production was equally impressive, leading the team with 37 points in 23 games.

Committed to Boston University next season alongside fellow highly ranked 2016 prospects in Bellows and defensemen Dante Fabbro, Keller has also excelled with United States internationally.

He has already been named the Americans' player of the game at this year's U18s after a two-goal, one-assist performance in an 8-2 win over Russia and he performed well on stacked teams at last year's U18s and U17s where he took home a gold and silver medal respectively. At the U17s, he was far and away the best forward in the tournament, outplaying fellow prospects Vitali Abramov, Alex Nylander and Max Jones (among others) on route to a tournament-best 13 points in six games.

Ranked ninth by Future Considerations, Keller is dynamic offensive centre who has excelled at all three forward positions. A gifted playmaker and scorer, Keller hangs onto the puck to make plays and loves to carry it while weaving through traffic in the offensive zone to draw attention.

A high-intensity player, Keller stands just 5-10 and buzzes around the ice to retrieve loose pucks or use high-end lateral movement to be defenders wide or to the inside.

He doesn't have a heavy one-timer but he can beat goalies cleanly with a hard, quick, accurate release from a standstill or in stride.

His best asset, his stick handling complements his strong skating to allow him to create space for himself in the offensive zone.

Watch how he keeps his head up and confidently controls the puck rather than putting it down low before aggressively taking it to a slot for a goal at U18s.

Beyond his offensive skill, he's also a versatile, aggressive defender who pursues his defensive mark relentlessly and gets in on opposing carriers for takeaways.

In his standout performance in the United States' win over Russia on April 14, Keller scored both of his goals by using his speed to gain separation or burst in on a loose puck.

Watch his first goal, as he receives an outlet pass on a curl and bursts up the ice before using the aforementioned accuracy to slide it under the pad.

And watch his backside support as Kailer Yamamoto is about to lose the puck along the boards and Keller picks it up and protects it down the boards before throwing it on net.

In a class where there is no clear-cut fourth overall selection, Keller deserves more recognition than he gets. If not, there's going to be a lucky team late in the top-10 (or later).