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Keith Petruzzelli: Journey to the Draft
The incoming Quinnipiac freshman goaltender prepares for his first season as a Bobcat, starting with this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft.
It’s a dream come true, but just the beginning of a long road ahead.
As both a top prospect eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and a college hockey recruit, that is the reality for incoming Quinnipiac freshman goalie Keith Petruzzelli.
The Wilbraham, Massachusetts native is listed at 6-foot-6, 190-pounds and finished his 2016-17 campaign as NHL Central Scouting’s No. 2 ranked North American goalie, behind only Boston University’s rising sophomore Jake Oettinger.
As a projected late second or third-round selection this weekend, everything he’s worked on and strived for will culminate in a matter of seconds when his name is eventually called by an NHL club.
And at just 18 years old, Petruzzelli already possesses a lifetime of hockey in his past.
In 2013, Petruzzelli became the first player born in 1999 to commit to a college hockey program, along with his older brother, D.J..
“(Quinnipiac was) the first team to reach out to us, so that always means a lot,” Petruzzelli said. “Just a great campus, great facilities, great coaching staff and we both thought it would be a really great fit.”
But the Petruzzelli brothers would have to wait to play with each other again, as they were separated in Keith’s junior year of high school.
The younger Petruzzelli moved to Connecticut for the 2015-16 season, joining the Selects Academy at South Kent School in the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). There he flourished, finishing the season with a league-best 1.13 goal against average and .936 save percentage amongst goalies that played 20 games or more.
The next step was joining Muskegon of the United States Hockey League (USHL), where the transition from high school hockey to juniors was evidently strenuous.
Through his first 16 games of his rookie season, Petruzzelli posted an atypical 2.95 goals against average and .901 save percentage.
“It’s crazy, it was a really big jump from U-18. The guys are so much faster, shoot so much harder and they’re just bigger,” Petruzzelli said. “In the USPHL, the first two lines can play, but then after that, there’s a pretty solid drop-off for most teams. Just having four full lines of guys that can rip the puck, coming down on you, it was an adjustment for sure.”
But that all changed at the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game this past December.
About halfway through the showcase, Petruzzelli stepped into the crease and stopped all 21 shots he faced. His stellar performance was met with Team East MVP honors, becoming the first goalie in the event’s history to win an MVP award.
“It was just one of those nights where everything seems to go right for you,” Petruzzelli said. “I thought I was in a little bit of a rut at that point in the season, so going into that game, and having such a huge game, was huge for my confidence.”
Since then Petruzzelli improved, and quickly became the USHL’s best rookie goaltender. Amongst first-year goalies, he finished the season with a league-best 22 wins, .918 save percentage and 2017 USHL All-Rookie team honors.
His self-confidence even allowed him to accomplish the infrequent.
In a game in late February against the Madison Capitols, Petruzzelli and his Lumberjacks were up 3-1, late in the contest. With the Madison goalie pulled and the puck finding its way onto Petruzzelli’s stick, he fired a 200-foot shot from his own crease and perfectly split the uprights, becoming the first goalie to score a USHL goal in seven years.
“That was the first goal I’ve ever scored and it was crazy,” Petruzzelli said. “I can’t describe the feeling. It was incredible. It’s what every goalie dreams of. Getting the puck, going for it and hitting it. Yeah, I couldn’t put the feeling into words. It was crazy.”
Then on May 23, the young netminder with hulking size earned some well-deserved recognition for a season of success, and most importantly development.
Petruzzelli was named USA Hockey’s 2017 Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year, joining an illustrious group including the Detroit Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard (2002), New Jersey Devils’ Cory Schneider (2004) and Anaheim Ducks’ John Gibson (2011).
Congratulations to Keith Petruzzelli – Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year recipient. pic.twitter.com/bx9wKKEyN8
— AHAI (@AHAI_1) June 8, 2017
“It was incredible,” Petruzzelli said. “Just flying out to Colorado, going to the awards ceremony and seeing everything that goes into USA Hockey and how many people devote their careers to elevating the game for everyone. It was a hell of an experience.”
However, the greatest accomplishment of Petruzzelli’s young career is yet to come.
Having already talked to over 15 NHL clubs, it’s all but certain that Petruzzelli will be selected at this weekend’s entry draft in Chicago.
While there are some stresses of not knowing where he’ll end up until selected, for now, Petruzzelli is just enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime moment while he can.
“It’s been a blast, just so much fun,” Petruzzelli said. “Getting to meet with teams and GM’s, it’s so exciting, it’s so fun and obviously with the draft coming up this weekend, I can’t wait to see what happens. It’s gonna be an experience, being able to be out here with my family. I can’t wait.”
Projected to go just about anywhere between picks 60-90, time will tell who claims the rights to the rangy goaltender.
It could realistically be any club.
Spanning from the NHL’s most recent expansion team in Las Vegas (62nd overall), to an Original Six club like Montreal (68th overall), and all the way to Arizona (78th overall), a team that has invested in Quinnipiac prospects in the past, there is no sure destination.
As a kid from Massachusetts, the obvious choice at heart would be to end up with the Boston Bruins. Yet Petruzzelli knows that, when all said and done, getting drafted to any one of the 31 NHL clubs is an accomplishment in itself.
“To be completely honest, I couldn’t care less where I go,” Petruzzelli said.
His focus is currently set on making yet another transition; this time to the collegiate level at Quinnipiac.
The Bobcats’ 2016-17 season was one filled with question marks in the crease. With no true solidified No. 1 goalie, rising senior Chris Truehl and rising sophomore Andrew Shortridge split time between the pipes for Quinnipiac.
Truehl started the season off strong, but was overtaken by then-freshman Shortridge after a rough start on Feb. 17 at Union, which saw Truehl allow three goals on six shots. The older, more experienced netminder got the wheels rolling for the Bobcats and essentially eased in the first-year goalie.
Quinnipiac goalie coach Jared Waimon notes that perhaps a similar series of events is poised for the upcoming season in net.
“You bring a goalie in that hasn’t completely aged out junior-wise. We think he can come in and have a chance to play and challenge for starts this season,” Waimon said.
In an NCAA league in which just 10 of the 60 teams had freshman goalies play 30 games or more, that is high praise for the incoming true freshman.
Nevertheless, Petruzzelli is well aware that despite his preexisting skill, he still has much to do before becoming a bonafide starter at the collegiate level.
“I think it’s going to be a lot about finding my consistency every night,” Petruzzelli said. “Just hitting the weight room and getting bigger and stronger is only going to help me move faster across the crease, so I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for me.”
But what is Petruzzelli most excited for coming into the college hockey scene? Simply, the chance to play with his older brother again.
“I’ve really missed him these past few years, so being able to be back on the ice with him is going to be incredible.” Petruzzelli said of brother D.J. “He has great vision, sees the ice really well and I think he’s gonna be a big player for us coming up this year.”
In midst of a long-awaited reunion, Quinnipiac strength and conditioning coach Brijesh Patel has already started working out with D.J..
It’s no secret that Petruzzelli must also put in the effort off-ice to further advance his play in goal and, most importantly, his ever-growing NHL potential.
“[The] buy-in in the weight room, that’s a huge thing, especially at Quinnipiac where our weight room is so elite with what [Patel] does,” Waimon added. “That will help him stay in the net longer, as far as injury prevention and overall strength, because, remember, he’s only 18 and there’s guys on the ice that are 20-23, so that takes some time.”
Quinnipiac fans won’t have to wait long to see those improvements, as Petruzzelli will surely bring the already-existing, tangible aspects of his game to the Bobcats immediately. For his 6-foot-6 frame, Petruzzelli moves well laterally, positions himself to cut down the angles and is a premiere puck-handler.
If the development continues on its current path, putting his nose to the grindstone will separate him from the overall competition for years to come.
“Just coming in and working as hard as I possibly can,” Petruzzelli said of his 2017-18 expectations. “We’ll hope for the best and see what happens.”