When Flint Firebirds forward Ethan Keppen has needed advice as he navigates his draft-eligible year, he hasn’t had to look too far.
All he’s needed to do is look to his right on the ice.
“I’ve been playing on [Ty Dellandrea’s] line for a bit,” said Keppen, 70th in Future Considerations’ Fall ranking for the 2019 NHL Draft.
“He’s been giving me tips and I’m always asking him questions about what it takes to get drafted. He’s like, ‘just be yourself out there and have fun.”
Dellandrea was the No. 13 pick of the Dallas Stars at the 2018 draft.
But while ‘be yourself and have fun’ is great advice, it’s much easier said than done when you know there’s a bunch of scouts in the stands watching your every move.
“Oh, yeah. But you just don’t try to focus on the scouts,” Keppen said. “I try and focus on my team and helping them out — being a go-to-guy out there. Obviously there’s guys watching you, but I try to play my best.”
Scouts aren’t the only one that Keppen said he’s conscious of in the stands.
“I’ve got other people coming too — my family, “ he said. “Obviously I want to impress them, and my fans… Stuff like that.”
He’s on his way.
Keppen, a 6-foot-2, 217-pound left winger, has scored seven goals and added three assists, and has 27 minutes in penalties.
With a power forward’s body and attitude, Keppen said he has a couple of players in the NHL on whom he models his game.
“There’s one, Tom Wilson, who won the Stanley Cup last year. He’s a big forward, very strong, and plays a physical game. He’s a hard worker out there, he blocks shots, he makes hits. He’s a great 200-foot player,” he said.
“And there’s Jamie Benn from the Dallas Stars. I asked Ty how he is and Ty said he’s one of the best leaders, probably, in the NHL right now. He’s a big forward as well. He’s very good in the defensive zone and carries it into his offensive play.”
Eric Wellwood, Keppen’s coach, sees a more natural fit with Wilson.
But he also appreciates his young winger’s aspirations towards Benn.
“I would be more of a Tom Wilson type, especially if he gets a little more physical,” Wellwood said. “Jamie Benn — that’s an ultra-high-end guy, obviously, but I would never limit somebody’s thinking.
“If he thinks he wants to be a Jamie Benn, then, yeah, let’s try to develop that. He’s definitely more, in my mind, a Tom Wilson — up and down.
“But Tom Wilson makes a great living.”
Ultimately, Keppen needs to discover who he is as a player and grow comfortable in that role to find success, he added.
“Ethan’s starting to show some progress,” Wellwood explained.
“He’s a strong kid for his age, he’s really really strong. So that’s definitely his strongest asset. He’s an up-and-down winger, as he continues to develop he’s going to continue to get a better defensive game.
“Once he learns who he is and just becomes who he is, he’s going to be a very effective player. I think people know what he is. He’s an up-and-down winger.
“For him, he’s going to have to learn to play in the D-zone and play the D-zone like an NHLer does. At the same time, I’d like to see him take the puck to the net a little more and using his body down low. He’s got that advantage of being that strong, he should be taking advantage of that.”
There’s another element Keppen is focusing on, too.
He hopes it can give him another leg up.
“Obviously my speed,” he said. “I’m trying to get as fast as possible. The game’s getting faster and faster every year… every year. Yeah, speed’s really been a main focus of mine.
“I kind of keep it neutral. Obviously I try to be a big, strong guy out there — make physical plays, get in the corners and that. But obviously speed comes with that too — you have to keep up with the players out there.”