By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — One year ago, Oshawa Generals goaltender Kyle Keyser was in Bruins development camp as an invitee.
Even with the most positive outlook, he probably couldn’t have predicted where he would wind up in April and May.
Keyser, who signed with the Bruins as an undrafted free agent Oct. 3, finished his Ontario Hockey League season and came to New England to skate with the pros. For stretches of the Bruins’ run to the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Keyser was with the parent club as the third, and sometimes only, goaltender for practices in between playoff games.
“It was great. It was an absolutely awesome opportunity and I’m very fortunate I got that opportunity to be with the team and be here with the guys,” Keyser said last month during one of the sessions of the Bruins’ 2018 development camp. “I couldn’t speak higher enough of everyone in the organization from the players to the management, how they treated me and made me feel part of the team. I’m thankful for that.”
The 19-year-old wasn’t in awe of his idols. He took full advantage of the opportunity to learn from Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, in addition to the Bruins’ coaching staff.
“Tuukks and Doby were great people, they were very welcoming to me, welcoming questions that I had for them. I’m just thankful, they helped me with positioning stuff. Even off the ice, just how to handle things, they were just good people around,” Keyser explained.
“If I see them do a technique out on the ice, I’ll ask ‘why do you do that?’ They’re the best of the best and I want to know why they do certain things in certain situations and they were more than happy to explain to me why they do things and look at my game and say ‘maybe you’re doing this well, or maybe we need to change this.’ … So I was just very thankful.”
The tips Keyser took from Bruins practices during the playoffs could help him take another long stride in his career in 2018-19. The 2017-18 campaign was monumental for the Florida native. Not only did he earn his first pro contract but he took over as the Generals’ No. 1 goaltender and helped them to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference.
While increasing his workload from 26 games to 47, Keyser had a 3.16 goals-against average and .904 save percentage (which ranked 13th in the OHL). You can count Oshawa vice-president and general manager Roger Hunt among those impressed with Keyser’s accomplishments from last season. The GM is looking forward to greater things from Keyser in the upcoming season as well.
“He was a backup prior and you know when you’re playing once every couple of weeks you can prepare differently. But when you’re playing every night and you’re being counted on to be good every night, that was something that he had to deal with mentally and physically,” Hunt said. “I think he met those challenges head on, and I would think GMs in our league would tell you, most goalies in our league aren’t really at the top of their class really until they are 19.”
Keyser made sure to get into the best shape of his life so he could handle the increase in playing time. A couple minor injuries early in the season postponed his ascension to the No. 1 job, but once he conquered those ailments he was off and running. And when he wasn’t feeling his best, he learned how to fight through.
“I think the big thing is just getting and playing in all those games, and sometimes you’re mentally tired but you’ve got to find a way to dig through it and give your team a chance to win,” Keyser said.
Jack Studnicka, a Bruins second-round pick in 2017 and a possible rookie on the 2018-19 team, was Keyser’s teammate the past two seasons and has had an up-close look at the goaltender’s development.
“He’s a competitor in practice,” Studnicka said. “He competes really hard regardless of the situation. You don’t want anyone else but him protecting your net, he’s a great teammate and a great goaltender.”
Keyser was one of three goaltenders in development camp. Daniel Vladar is expected to start the season in Providence while Jeremy Swayman will be back at the University of Maine. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Keyser will be back in Oshawa. Bruins director of player development Jamie Langenbrunner praised the improvements all three goaltenders made over the past year and was impressed with their athleticism.
Keyser will continue to put his athleticism to use, as he tries to improve his patience in net and get better in all areas. He’ll use the advice from his coaches in Oshawa, the Bruins goaltending gurus and, of course, whatever he picked up from Rask and Khudobin.
“I feel like the transition [to being a No. 1 last season] went well; I’m looking forward to a good season next year as well as building off it,” Keyser said.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.