On Tuesday morning, Brady Keeper – the pride and joy of Manitoba’s Pimicikamak Cree Nation – made his return to the Florida Panthers lineup. With the team opting to go with seven defenceman, Keeper was paired alongside veteran blueliner Anton Stralman in a shutdown role on the Panthers’ back-end. Keeper’s postseason debut came after the 24-year-old cracked Florida’s 31-man playoff roster.
Needing a change for Game 2 of their Qualifying Round best-of-five series after losing the opening game to the New York Islanders 2-1 on Saturday, Keeper drew into the lineup Tuesday following a strong season of American Hockey League play with the Springfield Thunderbirds. In 61 AHL games, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenceman tallied six goals, 18 points and 108 penalty minutes for the Eastern Conference’s 11th-place T-Birds.
Despite playing well Tuesday, Keeper did not find the scoresheet, finishing a -1 with two hits and two blocks in 13:13 of icetime in Florida’s 4-2 loss. Now down 2-0 with their backs against the wall, the Panthers will look to get back in their best-of-five in Game 3, set for 11:00 AM Wednesday morning.
After going undrafted through his eligible years as an NHL prospect, Keeper – who had less than one dollar to his name at the time – put pen to paper on a standard two-year, entry-level contract with Florida on March 18, 2019 that pays an annual average value of $925K at the NHL level.
He then got a taste of big league action, suiting up for a March 28, 2019 game against the Ottawa Senators. He finished a +1 with a shot on net through 18 shifts in a solid 12:40 of action for Joel Quenneville’s Panthers last spring. But as remarkable as any ‘road the NHL’ story usually is, Keeper’s very well may take the cake.
Following in Zach Whitecloud’s footsteps (Sioux Valley Dakota Nation) – who signed with the Vegas Golden Knights in March of 2018 – Keeper played three seasons with the OCN Blizzard of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, before suiting up for two years of Division I college hockey with the NCAA’s University of Maine.
“It’s remarkable that Brady has become the second First Nations kid from Manitoba to finish up in the MJHL, play two years of NCAA hockey and then sign an NHL contract,” said University of Maine Head Coach Alfie Michaud. “It says a lot about the kids, but it also says a lot about the quality of the MJHL and the importance of playing at the NCAA level and getting a few more years of competitive, high-level hockey. If you think about it, without college hockey, Brady would have been done hockey at 20. Now he has a chance to live his dream.”
With Maine of Hockey East, the hard-checking defenceman registered 13 goals, 44 points and 166 penalty minutes, while suiting up for 73 regular season games for the sixth-place Black Bears. Keeper’s seven goals, 15 assists and 22 points led all Maine blueliners in his final season.
While skating with the MJHL’s OCN Blizzard from 2014-17, the former Norway House North Star collected 52 goals and 133 points in 161 regular season games, taking home the league’s ‘Top Defenceman’ award while also receiving MVP honours in 2016-17.