By Carter Brooks
Photo courtesy of Maine Black Bears
It's truly a dream come true for Pimicikamak's Brady Keeper, who on Monday officially signed his very first National Hockey League contract.
The 22-year-old product of Pimicikamak First Nation in Cross Lake, MB. went undrafted through his eligible years as an NHL prospect. On Monday, Keeper - who had less than one dollar to his name at the time - put pen to paper on a two-year standard entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers. The deal will pay an annual average value of $925K at the NHL level.
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 6-foot-2, 190-pound 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 this past 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.
“Brady is a promising puck-moving defenceman who possesses strong offensive instincts and plays a physical game,” said Dale Tallon, General Manager of the Florida Panthers. “He has been a leader for the University of Maine and found success as one of the team’s top defenders. We are excited for Brady to join the Panthers and continue to grow his game.”
In signing this contract, Keeper has foregone his remaining years at the University of Maine. The Panthers hosted the 22-year-old for morning skate Tuesday, and had Keeper skate his solo rookie lap Tuesday evening in Dallas, before scratching him for the game. In 2018, Zach Whitecloud joined the Golden Knights and dressed in one game, finishing a +3. Brady Keeper will wear number 25 for the Panthers, should he see action with the big club.