The pride of Pimicikamak Cree Nation has earned himself another contract. On Monday morning, the Florida Panthers announced that the team and defenceman Brady Keeper had agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way contract worth $874K for the upcoming 2020-21 season. Should the year be spent in the minors, the 24-year-old will take home $70K.
The former Manitoba Junior Hockey League star with the OCN Blizzard, Keeper skated in 61 games with the Panthers’ American Hockey League affiliate, Springfield Thunderbirds in 2019-20, putting up six goals and 18 points, to go alongside 108 total penalty minutes. One of his goals came on the power play, while three were game-winners. He operated at a 7.1 shooting percentage, while firing 84 pucks on net over the course of the season.
This postseason, with the Panthers falling behind in their Qualifying Round series with the New York Islanders 1-0, the team turned to Keeper – who had been with them in the bubble – where he made his season debut. Despite playing well in Game 2 for Florida, Keeper did not find the scoresheet, however, he finished a -1 with two hits and two blocks in 13:13 of icetime in the club’s 4-2 loss.
The news of Keeper drawing into the Panthers’ lineup sent shockwaves throughout the First Nations community of Pimicikamak this summer. Businesses shut down early prior to the 11:00 AM puck drop, while the Chief spoke on local radio, asking community members to tune-in to the morning contest. It was must-see television for those in support of the only person to ever suit up in the NHL from Pimicikamak.
“Personally, it’s unbelievable to see it,” Keeper said postgame. “I can’t even rate it. I’m just trying to control my nerves. I can’t even sit down here and watch the game. I’m pacing back and forth, going inside and outside.”
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.