Duncan Keith shouldering mentor role once again in Blackhawks camp flooded with prospects

From coaching his 7-year-old son this offseason, Keith learned new ways to teach the Hawks’ numerous young defensemen.

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Duncan Keith has helped mentor the Blackhawks’ defensive prospects at training camp.

Duncan Keith has helped mentor the Blackhawks’ defensive prospects at training camp.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Duncan Keith’s son Colton was the adorable sensation of the 2017 NHL All-Star game.

Then just 3, Colton’s exuberance for the festivities in Los Angeles and penchant for addressing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane as “sir” made him a huge hit on Twitter. 

But now Colton Keith is growing up. He’s 7 and playing competitive team hockey. With the NHL offseason moved to this fall and Keith back home in his typical summer home of Penticton, British Columbia, Keith spent much of his new free time coaching Colton’s youth team. 

As it turned out, he was also coaching himself.

“When you coach your son or younger kids, you see the different perspective,” Keith said Tuesday. “It helps you as a player in a lot of ways, because you’re having to explain what you’re doing. Sometimes it can just be natural or an instinct or things you’ve learned. But putting it into words brings a lot more clarity and understanding for myself, as well.”

Since Hawks training camp opened, Keith has been asked to wear that coach/mentor hat frequently yet again. 

Eight of the 14 defensemen in camp are 23 or younger, and while that isn’t quite the same as a 7-year-old, it might as well be to Keith. Five of the defensive prospects — Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, Alec Regula, Adam Boqvist and Michael Krutil — are indeed closer in age to Colton than 37-year-old Duncan.

Like Patrick Kane did Monday, Keith emphasized that he’s fully on board with the Hawks’ front office vision and youth movement. 

That movement nonetheless puts added responsibility on the few veterans like Keith left to not only prepare themselves for the coming season — no simple task after basically nine months off and with a body sporting 1,273 games of wear and tear — but also prepare the youngsters. 

“I still feel like I’m kind of learning myself,” Keith said. “I do realize that you [should] talk to some of these young guys . . . so if I can help them out and maybe speed up their development, that’s going to help the team win and help the organization. I’m trying to do that.”

Keith spent much of last season teaching Boqvist how to handle top-pairing duties, spending 55% of his even-strength minutes alongside the then-rookie. Keith also talked to Mitchell several times during informal skates in December, bonding over their shared western Canadian roots.

Boqvist and Mitchell were placed in the opposite group from Keith this camp, though, so Keith and Connor Murphy — Group 2’s main defensive veterans — have worked with the likes of Krutil, Beaudin and Wyatt Kalynuk instead.

Keith effortlessly schooled Krutil in a one-on-one drill Monday, but then spent several minutes after practice giving the Hawks’ newest fourth-round pick some tips. 

Keith passed off his advice as inconsequential — “He’s a big, strong guy and if you notice a few things, why not try to give your two cents?” he said — but coach Jeremy Colliton disagreed.

“Even when we’re doing the conditioning skates, he’s making sure [the young guys] push just a little bit harder,” Colliton said. “The young guys, of course, they look up to [him] and any type of feedback they get is like gold. Those veteran guys underestimate the effect they have.”

Then again, Keith is the first to point out that teaching and learning aren’t fully determined by age alone. 

Just consider his own example, on the verge of his 16th NHL season, of learning from his son’s U8 team.

“It doesn’t have to be a young guy learning from an old guy,” he said. “A young guy can learn from a young guy, and a young guy can learn from somebody that’s even younger. It’s just a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open to what’s out there.”

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