The production may not immediately jump off the page for recently-drafted Ethan Keppen, but he’s been able to hold his own on a terrible Flint Firebirds team well enough to be drafted in the fourth round by the Vancouver Canucks.
With any player of his size — 6-foot-2, 212 lbs — there’s always the notion that they will be a purely physical player and perhaps ill-equipped for the fast, modern NHL. But Keppen has shown enough skill to warrant the mid-round selection.
Selected 10th overall in the OHL Priority Selection back in 2017, Keppen was the Firebirds’ main source of offence this past season.
“He is one of the major building blocks, centerpieces, in our franchise. He’s a tremendous leader,” Firebirds GM Barclay Branch told EliteProspects earlier this year. “He’s a great person. He leads every day on the ice and off the ice, by example, and those are the kinds of guys that you want as centerpieces of your franchise. We think that that’s what Ethan brings to us. That’s how important he is to our organization.
“He’s just starting to take off as a player and it couldn’t be happening at a better time because it happens at the same time we feel we’re taking off as a team.”
Whether or not Flint can take the next step towards respectability next season, Keppen will continue to play the same crucial role and remain a key cog in the team’s offense.
Not yet breaking into the top-10 of Canucks prospects, but debuting this high is impressive for a player selected in the mid-rounds. There are still a few years until he will be a part of the NHL conversation so there will be some growing pains, but Keppen will no doubt be a player to keep a close eye on as the season progresses.
In keeping with past lists, we’re considering a prospect to be any player who is 25 years of age or younger and who has played less than 25 regular season games at the NHL level. This is a slightly modified and simplified version of the qualifications for the Calder Trophy.
As of the 2018/19 season, both Elias Pettersson and Adam Gaudette have graduated from prospect status.
By The Numbers
Just looking at the stat line won’t give you a full picture of the type of player Keppen is. Through 68 games with Flint — one of the worst hockey teams in the existence of the sport — he was able to score 30 goals and 59 points.
One thing that he did extremely well last year was get shots on net. Among OHL-draft eligible players in 2019, Keppen was behind only Hamilton’s Arthur Kaliyev in terms of even-strength shot generation. If anything, this shows that Flint really relied on the young forward to lead the charge offensively and was comfortable with that pressure on his shoulders.
Any numbers gleamed from a season where a player laces up for a team as bad as the Firebirds were last season should be taken with a grain of salt. Keppen might turn out to be the player that his basic stats reflect, or he could blossom into a powerful winger that can score consistently on a better team.
For a more precise look on where he projects to be, we turn to Jeremy Davis’ pGPS Cohort Map to really get a sense of other players that went the OHL route and had similar effect on their team as Keppen did this past season.
One name that is eerily close to Keppen’s is fellow Canuck, Bo Horvat, but the Canucks’ 2013 ninth-overall selection was in a polar opposite situation with the London Knights during his draft year. While Keppen’s only real help came in the form of Dallas Stars prospect Ty Dellandrea, Horvat had the luxury of playing alongside junior sensations Max Domi and Seth Griffith, with future NHL players further down the depth chart, like Olli Maatta and Nikita Zadorov.
But as seen at that top row above the map, Keppen has an expected likelihood of success (XLS%) of 26.9. While that seems low, it’s fairly average for a prospect of his calibre — not at the top level but should get into the professional ranks at least.
With over 50 per cent of his expected success to be in the non-bust categories, Keppen has potential to be at least a Canucks farm hand. It might not be the highest of hopes for the 18-year-old forward, but with little to go off of in terms of experience, it’s a promising start for a mid-round pick.
Within that expected success percentage, Keppen appears to either be a “boom or bust” type of player if he reaches the NHL. With not a lot of room in the middle, Keppen has some chance to be a pure depth NHLer but could also develop into a Johan Franzen-type forward that can slot into the top line when needed.
Keppen is one of the most interesting prospects in the Canucks system right now. Where more teams are going all-in on skill — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — the Canucks’ fourth-round pick combines size and smarts to create a package NHL coaches can dream on.
Here’s how OHL Central scouting described Keppen:
“Ethan is a prototypical power forward. He has very good size with a powerful stride that allows him to reach top speed quickly. He goes up and down his wing crashing and banging into everything. Ethan creates room for his linemates and goes to the net hard for rebounds and loose pucks. He is a complete player that takes care of his own end and is relied on in all key situations. There isn’t a hit that he turns away from. He competes hard for loose pucks and forechecks hard.”
Beyond all the hockey scouting cliches, Keppen is essentially an all-around player that can positively contribute at both ends of the ice. He is a player that both heavy-hockey lovers and people that watch the game for feats of skill can enjoy.
To go over all of the small details and exactly where he lies among prospects in this year’s draft, Will Scouch of Scouching has a terrific video that offers an in-depth look at Keppen’s toolkit.
Like Scouch alludes to at the beginning of the video, describing Keppen as simply as a “power forward” does some injustice to his game. That term has some slimy assumptions behind it after a few players that fit that player type were drafted too high and washed out at the NHL level.
Being a part of a tragic team like Flint last season could have had a major effect on what he was able to do, but Keppen is still extremely watchable and plays hard on most shifts.
A defensively weak team like the Firebirds could leave a lot of missed opportunities to really let Keppen have the puck on his stick — letting the transition game do its work — but he was still able to score 30 goals including some powerful, jaw-dropping ones like this against the Peterborough Petes.
Ethan Keppen (#92) – 6’2 210 pounds, scored 30 goals in the OHL.
This is what he can do. pic.twitter.com/2ch7oQhE8C
— Evan (@Shattenkirk) June 7, 2019
If there is anything to take away from this, it’s that Keppen can be that perfect all-around player, but right now he’s stuck on a terrible team that’s causing him to be underrated by a lot of stat line scouts.. If he is able to work on his agility — as mentioned in the Scouching video — he can really make most aspects of the game work for him.
He should be able to make the professional ranks easily, but it’s from there that the Canucks should work with Keppen and develop him into that top-line physical and responsible winger that so many fans of every team crave.
It’s a miracle that one player can make a team like the Flint Firebirds watchable and Keppen does that on every shift.