In 2017, despite being an active player, the NHL named him one of the Top 100 players of all time as part of the league’s centennial celebrations.
Keith played NCAA hockey with Michigan State University starting in 2001. A year later, Chicago drafted him 54th overall, and early in his second college season he left to play in the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets, the NHL clearly in his crosshairs by this time. After a year with the Rockets, Keith ended up playing in the AHL for two years, the first year as a stepping stone to the Hawks and the second because of the 2004-05 lockout. That extra season was a blessing in disguise. When he made the team at camp in the fall of 2005, Keith was 22 years old and ready to assume a lead role with the team. He was soon partnered with Brent Seabrook, and they became just about the best duo in the league.
The Hawks missed the playoffs in Keith’s first three years (2005-08), after which they qualified nine years in a row, but those early struggles gave him the chance to play for Canada for the first time, at the 2008 World Championship in Quebec City, during the IIHF’s Centennial celebrations. Canada advanced to the gold-medal game, only to lose in overtime after an errant clearing by Rick Nash gave Russia a power play.
Keith had a remarkable year in 2009-10. He and Seabrook were named to Canada’s Olympic team for the Vancouver Games, along with Chicago teammate and captain, Jonathan Toews. That tournament was made historic, of course, for Sidney Crosby’s golden goal. Keith and Seabrook started as a pair, but 20-year-old Drew Doughty played so well that coach Mike Babcock paired Keith with the Kings’ sophomore star, relegating Seabrook to the role of seventh defender. Just a few months later, they helped the Hawks win their first Stanley Cup since 1961, and at the end of the season Keith was named winner of the Norris Trophy. He was at the height of his powers, often playing nearly half a game, a stud at both ends of the ice.
In all, Keith played almost 1,200 games with Chicago over 16 seasons, but as his career drew closer to the end than the beginning, he asked for a trade nearer his home in Penticton, British Columbia. The Hawks acquiesced, sending him to Edmonton in a blockbuster deal which saw Caleb Jones head to the Windy City.
Keith, of course, was coming to a team led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and his presence gave them a star on the blue line for the first time in McDavid’s career. The Oilers advanced to the conference finals before being eliminated by eventual Cup champions Colorado, setting in motion Keith’s decision about his future.
In all, Keith played 1,256 regular-season games and another 151 in the playoffs. His consistently high standard of play and team success leaves no doubt he will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day and, cap issues aside, the Oilers will have a tough time filling his very large skates.