Justin Keller was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the eighth round, 245th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft after scoring 25 goals as a rookie in the WHL, helping Kelowna win the Memorial Cup. The 5’11, 185-pounder followed that up with 31 goals in his sophomore season in 2004-05 and he added 12 more in 23 playoff games helping Kelowna win the WHL championship.
Keller is a shifty forward who likes to set up on the right side of the ice on the power play in order to get into a good position for a one timer. Although he is not very big, he competes hard in the corners and keeps his feet moving. He has proven to be durable, playing the full 72-game season in each of his two seasons in the WHL.
The Rockets lost their first two games of the 2005 Memorial Cup. Keller had a number of chances, but had managed only one assist and was +1.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Keller after a practice before their final game of the round robin against Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic.
HF: Well I guess it is quite simple tonight, win or go home.
JK: Yeah, we talked about that after the game, we know that it is do or die and the chips are down and this was what hockey is all about.
HF: Is your mindset that you knew you had to win three or four games to win this tournament, so why not now?
JK: Exactly, and you are going to have to win sooner or later and like I said, all the chips are down and this is when the big time players come to play.
HF: Speaking of big time players, you are the leading goal scorer on this team from the regular season, you have been creating lots of chances but you haven’t been able to finish them. Do you feel any extra pressure to score tonight?
JK: Yeah, I think some of the top end players were called out by the coach, not in a bad way, but just to step up and have a better game, because we need it. At this point in the season I guess you could say that it is a bit of added extra pressure but it is good.
HF: Ottawa wasn’t very physical with Rimouski and it cost them, I take it you won’t make that same mistake?
JK: Yeah we are going to be physical all over the ice and that is our game. We can’t stray from our game plan and what has worked for us all year, so physical play is when we play our best.
HF: A bit part of their team is the defensive pair of Columbe and Scalzo, they are both smallish guys. Are the big guys on your team going to try to key on them?
JK: We talked about those two guys and how they can move the puck really quick. We need to get the puck behind them and make them work down low. Just chip pucks in on them and get hits on them and make them feel the pain early in the game.
HF: The Memorial Cup is considered a once in a lifetime experience, yet this is your second time playing in it and some of your players have played in three. Do you have much time to soak up the atmosphere around the event or is it all hockey, hockey, hockey?
JK: Well yesterday we got some time to rest. We caught a movie and got our minds away from the game a bit and I think that was good. Like you said it is usually hockey, hockey, hockey, but yesterday we got a chance to relax and we watched the game and just hang out and get away from everything and that was good.
HF: Tonight you are the visiting team and won’t have the advantage of the last line change. The Crosby line has scored all seven goals for that team thus far in the tournament. How hard are you guys going to work to get the matches that you want?
JK: We talked about that as well at our meeting and we know that is a really good line, an awesome line. No matter who is out there against them, one of our two top lines, we want one of them against them, they are going to have to play them honest and play them hard and I think if we do that we are going to be fine.
HF: Last year you scored the game-winning goal in the Memorial Cup final. I take it that was one of your career highlights if not the career highlight?
JK: Yeah that does come up now and then. All the guys bug me about it, I mean it’s nice and a memory that I’ll have forever.
HF: Is it encouraging to be drafted by a team like Tampa Bay given that you could easily be pigeon holed as ‘too small’, but with them you can see what an impact a guy like Martin St. Louis has had?
JK: Yeah, I’ve talked to their scouts about what he has done and how he came up through the ranks and stuff like that. Looking at a forward like him who is smaller like myself, I can try to model my game after him a little bit.
HF: How do you plan to spend your summer?
JK: Obviously just working on my weaknesses I guess. Like my overall strength, being a smaller guy that is what I need to work on your leg strength, getting my skating up to par so I think just working hard all summer.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.