Editor’s note: Introducing Canes Country’s top 25 under 25 series. Last week, a group of us set out to rank the top 25 players 25 years of age or younger in the Hurricanes’ organization. We were successful in that endeavor. We took into account what players have accomplished to date, their likelihood of making it as a regular NHLer, and the level of impact they’re likely to have.
On this list, you’ll find players currently on the Hurricanes’ roster and prospects scattered across the AHL, Canadian junior leagues, and Europe. We’ll be revealing one player each weekday (with a couple exceptions for holidays) from now through early January.
We continue today with a reigning AHL All-Star and All-Rookie team defenseman.
Joey Keane was acquired by the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 8 in exchange for Julien Gauthier. Keane was originally drafted by the New York Rangers with the 88th overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft. At the time the trade seemed a little weird since the Canes were already deep at defenseman and thinner with forwards, but they couldn’t say no to that kind of return.
Before breaking into the professional ranks, he spent three seasons with the Barrie Colts and one year with the London Knights. While in Barrie he played with fellow Carolina Hurricane Andrei Svechnikov during the 2017-2018 season. In his draft year, he had his best season in juniors with 11 goals and 32 assists for 44 total points. His production fell off in the following season before transitioning to the professional ranks.
This past season was Keane’s first as a professional and was his best yet. Keane led all rookie defensemen in goals with nine and ranked second in the AHL in rookie defensemen in points with 37. Normally the jump from juniors to the pros can be difficult and even more so for a defenseman, but not only did Keane play well, he improved his point production per game from the juniors to the AHL. In his last season in the OHL, he had eight goals, and in the AHL he had nine.
Joey Keane scored his first pro hockey goal in Hartford's opener last night. Danny O'Regan with the assist. pic.twitter.com/MicjtUMznZ— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) October 6, 2019
His first goal came in the Wolfpack’s opening game against Charlotte. He showed his willingness to get involved on offense by crashing down open ice to a goal-scoring position. Sure there is a lot of open space for him to move into, but if he doesn’t put the shot on goal it could lead to an odd-man rush with just one player back playing defense.
He also fits in well with the Hurricanes’ system that allows defensemen to carry the puck and drive breakouts. In that goal, he was comfortable enough with his skating and puck skills to find a small gap in the defense and he manages to score. Granted it's against an AHL goalie, but he still showed the ability to not only lead the rush but to finish it himself.
His 38 assists also mean that he is a good facilitator of the puck and can find open players when he has the puck on his stick. Like all defensemen looking to make the NHL, he will have to work on his defense. He did register a -6 rating on the season which matches Jake Bean, who is two years his elder. Keane has shown the offensive eye and the ability to skate, but as we all know, defensemen have to be defense first with Rod Brind’Amour before he will allow them to wheel in the offensive zone.
Keane’s biggest hurdle moving forward is the Carolina Hurricanes organization being stacked with defensemen. Even with this and all of the skill on the blue line, He ranked second on the Checkers when it came to defenseman scoring, only behind AHL defenseman of the year Jake Bean. It will be tough for him to make the NHL or a taxi squad type role with the Canes who prefer to mature defensemen in the AHL for longer, but he could impress in camp when it opens.