Any time a player gets a callup to the next level, it’s an opportunity to show he belongs.
Ryan Keller has made the most of his opportunity with the Indy Fuel.
Keller, who began the year in the Southern Professional Hockey League, is in his second stint with the ECHL’s Fuel, and has impressed. In his second game of the callup, he had a goal and an assist in a 5-4 loss to Brampton, then followed with goals in back-to-back games against Quad City and Cincinnati last week.
That run has earned him a regular shift on the Fuel’s energy line, one that has been productive as a two-way unit as the team’s play has improved in the days bridging Christmas.
“I’m gaining more confidence, feeling more comfortable with the puck,” Keller said. “I’m just trying to slow things down and play my game – keep it simple. It’s been working. Hopefully, I can keep it going and keep working hard.”
It’s showing in his play. He brings size to the left wing, at 6-2, 195, and has shown solid finish around the net. His three-zone play has been key in posting a team-best plus-3 rating. His most recent goal was a “greasy” one, as he stabbed at a rebound and was able to roll it over the shoulder of Cincinnati’s Michael Houser and in for the eventual winner in Friday’s 3-2 Fuel victory.
“He’s got a big body, he’s got a long reach,” Fuel coach Bernie John said after that game. “He gets to the net. At the end of the day, they never ask how they went in, they ask how many. A kid can put up 15 goals and they may not be pretty, but they’re 15 goals. He’s contributing and playing hard.”
His three goals have come from the dirty area in front of the net, where he can use his long reach to get to pucks.
“That’s what I try to do,” Keller said. “I try to stay around the net and good things happen.”
He had one stint with the Fuel earlier this season, a five-game callup where he played a role similar to many players who get called up from the SPHL, filling in where needed. He went back to Peoria and played a handful of games. A number of injuries to Fuel players created an opportunity for a shot in the ECHL, and he’s made the most of it. Since returning Dec. 20, he’s found a regular spot on the left wing with Patrick D’Amico and Matt Rupert.
Keller is one of four forwards the Fuel have used from the SPHL this season, and the only one to make a return trip to Indy. He had two points in his first two games before his initial stint in Indy in late November. When he returned to the SPHL, he had an assist in three games, and then took advantage of his shot in Indy.
“Going back to Peoria really helped build my game,” Keller said. “I try to keep it simple and do whatever I can to help the team win and do whatever I’m asked to do.”
“When he was here before, I thought he was a really good player,” Fuel veteran forward Tristan King said. “He works hard, he’s fast, he’s got some skill. He’s a good addition to the team. He’s got some grit.”
The Detroit-area native turned pro after a four-year career at Michigan State, where he had 18 goals and 21 assists in 111 career games. There, he was a teammate of Fuel netminder Jake Hildebrand. They weren’t just teammates – they were also roommates. “It’s nice to have another familiar face around,” Hildebrand said.
Keller had an 11-goal season and a plus-10 rating as a junior in 2014-15. He followed with an eight-point season his senior year. He was an Academic All-Big Ten player in the conference’s first year, 2013-14, and followed with being named the Spartans’ Most Improved Player the next season.
He is translating that college success into the professional ranks.
“He brings a physicality to the game,” Hildebrand added. “When he’s moving his feet, he’s creating things offensively and disrupting the forecheck. If he continues that, he’s going to have success.”
He’s looking to make the most of this stint and stick in the ECHL. He’s making quite the case to do so as others return to the lineup.
“This is where I want to be.”