2009-10: Justin Kea played for the Central Ontario Wolves midget AAA program in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association. He scored 22 goals with 22 assists. Kea was selected by the Saginaw Spirit in the first round (13th overall) of the OHL Priority Draft.
2010-11: Kea skated in 62 games in his first season with Saginaw and represented Ontario in the 2011 U17 World Hockey Challenge. He scored 2 goals with 6 assists and was minus-five with 49 penalty minutes for the Spirit. Saginaw reached the second round of the OHL playoffs after finishing first in the West Division. In ten playoff games Kea had 1 assist and was minus-one. In five games at the WHC he had 1 assist with 8 penalty minutes for the gold medal-winning Ontario squad.
2011-12: Kea returned to Saginaw for his second season. In 65 games he scored 3 goals with 11 assists and was minus-four with 76 penalty minutes. Saginaw again reached the second round of the playoffs before falling to OHL champion London. In 12 playoff games Kea scored 1 goal with 4 assists and was plus-three with 2 penalty minutes. He was ranked 93rd amongst North American skaters in Central Scouting’s final rankings prior to the 2012 NHL Draft.
2012-13: Kea provided toughness and a scoring touch for Saginaw in his third OHL season with the Spirit. One of four players to skate in all 68 games, he scored 22 goals with 26 assists, both career highs, and was +12 while finishing second on Saginaw with 102 penalty minutes. Saginaw finished fourth in the West Division and was swept by league champion London in a first round playoff series. Kea scored 1 goal and was -5 with 7 penalty minutes in four playoff games. He spent time with the AHL’s Rochester Americans in April but did not appear in any games.
2013-14: Kea signed a three-year entry-level contract with Buffalo in April 2014 and made his pro debut with AHL affiliate Rochester following his fourth OHL season with Saginaw. Kea had no points nor penalties in his only AHL game with the Americans. He was the third-leading scorer for Saginaw and finished second on the team with 97 penalty minutes in his final junior season. Kea scored 22 goals with 27 assists and was -14 in 58 regular season games. The Spirit finished third in the West Division and lost to Erie in a first-round playoff series. Kea scored 1 goal with 3 assists and was +1 with no penalties in five playoff games.
2014-15: Kea played one game with Sabres’ AHL affiliate Rochester in November and two games in January — spending most of the season with the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals — before being recalled for good by the Americans at the end of February. Kea’s role with Rochester has been limited — he scored 1 goal with 40 penalty minuets in his first 15 AHL games. In 35 games with the Jackals he scored 5 goals with 7 assists and was -15 with 65 penalty minutes.
Kea has the size and demeanor to be an effective defensive forward and energy/enforcer-type player. Kea displayed elements of an offensive touch during his junior hockey career but he is not considered an NHL caliber scorer. His combination of size and the willingness to play defense and throw timely hits suggests some value in a lower line role.
Kea has spent much of the 2014-15 season with Elmira in the ECHL and has been used primarily as a banger and checking line forward during his time with the AHL's Rochester Americans. The learning curve for power forwards is sometimes longer than for other players and Kea, who is in his first pro season, will likely spend most of his original entry-level contract at the minor league level. Long-term he projects as a lower line forward with limited offensive upside who is strong defensively and willing to fight when necessary.