BOSTON (CBS) – Upon swinging a trade with Ottawa to acquire Chris Kelly last February, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli described all the ways the center would help the Bruins’ cause and summed up the veteran with one telling quote:
“All the top lines wanted him as a linemate.”
Of course, Chiarelli’s familiarity with Kelly dated back before he took over as Bruins GM and was an assistant GM with the Senators. He and head coach Claude Julien knew enough about Kelly’s abilities to stick with him when times were tough, and the forward rewarded that faith with some key goals during the run to the Stanley Cup championship.
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Now in the early weeks of the 2011-12 season, Kelly’s again proving his multi-faceted value. While he started the year out in his projected role as the third-line center, through two games centering Boston’s leading scorer Tyler Seguin (9 points) and last year’s leading goal-scorer Milan Lucic, who now has 2-4-6 totals this season, Kelly again looks like a guy everyone wants to play with.
To his credit, Kelly has put up numbers (2-3-5 totals) and maintained his responsible approach to the defensive game since taking over as “center Numero Uno.” Those who scoffed when they saw Julien’s restructured forward combinations last week have probably been choking on their own phlegm watching how well Kelly has clicked with those two Lucic and Seguin, who have shown a synergy between one another matched only maybe by a pair of twins.
Since his first seconds in a Bruins uniform, Kelly has stressed that he’s not around to put up points, but to the do the little things.
However, he’s open to any role that helps earn two points in the standings.
“My role on this team can change from day to day and I don’t mind that,” said Kelly after the Bruins’ loss to San Jose Saturday, when his line combined for five of the 13 points it has put up in the last two games. “I think I’m a pretty versatile person. I can play any position, so whatever they need me to do — like I said when I first came to this team, I’m just here to help the team wherever they need me.”
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Now maybe it’s an indictment of the Bruins’ offensive struggles that they’ve had to turn to Kelly, a player who has never exceeded 15 goals in a NHL season, to be their No. 1 center. And to be fair, we all know Kelly’s just keeping that spot warm until David Krejci can work his way back into fine form after a week-long absence with a core injury he still has to ice down after games.
But Kelly’s play with Lucic and Seguin can only benefit the Bruins down the line when he drops back down the depth chart, if he can contribute offensively on the third line – in addition to being a key penalty-killer and faceoff man – like he has in between Lucic and Seguin. You can’t count Kelly out of that challenge.
“I think Kelly, because everybody talks about his hockey smarts and how good he is on the PK and in the defensive zone, his skills get overlooked,” said Lucic. “I think we saw, especially the last two games, and even in that Chicago game when he got that goal, that he can bring an offensive upside to this team. He’s definitely been a real good fit for myself and Segs to play with. And no matter who it is, you’ve just got to go out there and play your game. I’m doing that, Kells is doing that, and so is Segs. It’s great that we have a veteran guy like Kelly around, who’s a great leader and can provide on both ends of the ice and hopefully he can keep it going.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com. He operates TheBruinsBlog.net and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.