Boston Bruins goaltender Kyle Keyser takes a water break against the New Jersey Devils during the second period of a preseason game.  AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

If everything goes according to plan this year for the Bruins, Kyle Keyser will not be seen anywhere near Boston when meaningful games are being played. The varsity goaltending is presumably in good hands with veterans Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak this season.

But if the 20-year-old Keyser, the free agent signee from the Oshawa Generals, continues to play like he has this preseason, it is not hard to picture him on Garden ice in the not-too-distant future.

On Saturday night at the United Center in Chicago, Keyser was the hard-luck loser in Boston’s 3-2 overtime loss against a Blackhawks team loaded with veterans such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome. Keyser was the most impressive of the Bruins prospects.

He relieved Maxime Lagace in the third period and stopped all 18 shots the Hawks threw at him. He exuded confidence, was efficient in his movements and made sure the Hawks were not getting the rebounds they were seeing earlier in the game. The one rebound he did give up, on a bullet shot from Connor Murphy in overtime, bounced off Kane and into the net for the game-winner. Keyser had little chance to do anything else with it.

“He battles,” said Coach Bruce Cassidy. “It looks like he’s going to be a good one.”

The mantle of Goalie of the Future might not be a welcome tag. He was once thought to be Zane McIntyre but, after four years of eroding play and zero wins at the NHL level, McIntyre was not re-signed after last season. And it’s way too early to give up on 22-year-old Daniel Vladar, a third-round pick in 2015, but his sub-.900 save percentage in his first full season in Providence last year was short of expectations.

It is a decidedly small sample size for Keyser, but he’s done little to dissuade observers that the Bruins have themselves another free agent gem. His play against the Hawks was eye-opening.

“You know at this level, whatever opportunity you get you have to seize it. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing one period or three you have to be ready to go,” said Keyser. “That’s what the coaches expect and that’s what I expect of myself. I’m just going to come in and play my game. I felt good going into it. The guys made it comfortable for me coming into the game, letting me see pucks. There wasn’t much traffic in the first five minutes of the period so they let me settle in and feel good.”

It’s not exactly easy sitting for two periods, getting thrust into action in the third period and responding as well as Keyser did.

“I know that I have to be mentally sharp at all times of the game, especially when you’re backing up,” said Keyser. “You never know what’s going to happen, so you have to be ready the whole time. That’s the mental approach I take into the game, that I never know if I’m going to be playing or not. That was kind of the case tonight.”

And it is that cerebral part of the game that was Keyser’s chief focus in the offseason. He consulted Dr. Saul Miller, a renowned sports psychologist, and has been reading self-help books that can give him a mental edge. He’s currently reading “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence” by author Gary Mack.

“As I’m getting older, I’m just getting more mature with my game and taking the mental side of the game more seriously. For me, talking to my trainers and coaches, it was ‘let’s get to the next level, mentally.’ For me that was really important and something I’ve put a lot of stock in,” said Keyser.

He believes its already paying dividends.

“I feel like I’m playing my game and feeling good about myself and I feel like I’m jump-starting into the season with some confidence,” he said. “I put in a lot of hard work in the summer and it feels good to know its paid off. There’s a long way to go. There’s a whole season to go and you have to keep proving it night in and night out that I’m the same goalie and I can do this. I want to provide that stability in net and when those guys pull on the jersey they know what they’re going to get out of you every night.”

Whether he’s leapfrogged Vladar to be the prospect to share the net in Providence with Lagace or he heads to Atlanta in the East Coast Hockey League (if in fact the Bruins structure it that way) remains to be seen. But he says he’s ready for whatever plans the team has for him.

“You always want to play at the highest level you’re able to,” said Keyser. “For me its just going in and putting in the work every single day, keep my head down and working hard, not saying much, just going in, put my time in and wherever the coaches and management feel I should be slotted, I’m going to go in and work hard and play my game. It doesn’t matter where you put me. I’m going to play my same game and I’m going to keep the puck out of the net. That’s my job.”

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