Just a year ago, Keegan Karki was traversing his way through the NHL draft process and seeking to commit to a college.
Now, he’s signed to play where Minnesotans rarely go.
The Everett Silvertips announced on Monday that the club signed Karki, a 19-year-old goaltender from Sartell, Minnesota, to a standard player agreement.
“It was hard to pass up and (an opportunity) that I’m honored to be given,” Karki said in a phone conversation. “It was a very easy decision for me and I’m excited for the next few years in Everett.”
Karki will be one of a only a handful of Minnesota natives to play in the Western Hockey League next year, as the North Star State is a notoriously difficult place for WHL teams to recruit in because of the preference most players there have to play NCAA hockey. Just nine Minnesota-born players played in the WHL last year and the last Minnesota native to play for the Silvertips was Josh Birkholz in 2012.
“Growing up in a small town in Minnesota and playing in Minnesota hockey, you’re only opened up to college hockey. You’re only told about that and you only learn about that,” Karki said. “Growing up, you only have a tunnel-vision perspective on that and what options there are. During my bantam, midget, high school and junior career, I kind of had that engraved in my head, that that’s what kids do from Minnesota. That’s what I dreamt of.
“As my career went along, it became more apparent that this was the better option for me.”
It took a bit for that point of realization for Karki in what has been a whirlwind of a junior career thus far.
He initially committed to the University of North Dakota in the spring preceding the 2016-2017 season, after leading Cathedral High School to the Minnesota high school state tournament, but eventually was told by the UND coaches they weren’t interested in him joining anymore after a rough season with the United State National Team Development Program juniors (16 games played, 3.50 goals-against average, .882 save percentage) and the U.S. National U17 team (31 games played, 3.50 GAA, .887), according to a profile written by the St. Cloud Times.
He rebounded nicely, finishing as the fifth-ranked North American goaltender in NHL Central Scouting’s final report and an invite to the scouting combine, and bolstered his draft stock after 41 games played and a 3.20 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage with the United States Hockey League’s Muskegeon Lumberjacks.
But Karki wasn’t selected in the 2018 NHL draft and an injury-riddled season limited him to just five games in the USHL and North American Hockey League (Corpus Christi IceRays).
“It was actually beyond an honor and an amazing experience,” Karki said. “I definitely soaked it in while I was there and used it as fuel for me after hearing five of my teammates in Muskegeon taken. It was a hard experience at first, a little part of you never expects to be drafted. … You try not to get ahead of yourself, but you always have that hope and faith there. It actually motivated me and fueled my fire to work harder and know that not everything comes as you expect it and some things come later and maybe it wasn’t the right time.
“It was a true honor to be recognized by the NHL and to be even invited to go there was a tremendous experience that I’ll remember forever.”
His Canadian Hockey League rights once belonged to Portland, but the Winterhawks dropped him from their protected list near the end of last season, Karki estimated.
Everett added him to its protected list around the trade deadline in January, and from there, he began to set his sights on playing for the Silvertips. Karki added that he’s looked up to former Silvertips goaltender Carter Hart and Everett’s reputation for developing netminders was a significant component on him signing his contract.
Karki, listed at 6-foot-5, 208 pounds in a Silvertips press release, is a big presence between the pipes. Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson said he caught wind that Karki would be open to discussing the option of playing in the WHL and they listed him to see what would come of it.
“He’s a goalie for me that comes with a lot of potential and upside, and at the time, it didn’t cost us anything” Davidson said. “We thought it made sense to grab him and his rights and see where it led to.”
Everett leaned heavily on Dustin Wolf last season, who led the WHL in games played (61) and minutes played (3,615). He also led the league in save percentage (.936), goals-against average (1.69) and wins (41) to earn the Western Conference’s goaltender of the year award.
“He’s coming into a situation where we already have a strong goaltender and we’re certainly not trying to fix something here,” Davidson said. “We’re trying to add to it. And if this young man gets on track, we’re probably faced with two No. 1 goalies.
“I think any time you can add someone with this ability and potential, you’d be foolish not to give it a whirl.”
The presence of Wolf, who is a year younger than Karki, didn’t deter Karki from committing to Everett, he said.
“I was pretty set on it,” Karki said. “I love having another goaltender and Everett obviously has an amazing goaltender to learn from and bounce ideas off and compete against. … I’m excited to work with Dustin and get to know him. I’ve heard great things about him. Nothing but love and I can’t wait to compete with him.”