📝 by Joel Vanderlaan | AHL On The Beat
After a storied junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders, it’s hard to believe Parker Kelly went unselected in his NHL draft year.
His draft status might be a reason he sometimes sneaks under the radar; however, his strong play has continued to catch the attention of executives.
Although overlooked in the past, they will no longer make that mistake. Kelly’s play and effort have forced him back into the conversation when the Ottawa Senators fine-tune their roster.
The 22-year-old forward is currently plying his trade in Belleville, where he serves as an alternate captain. Earlier in the season, Kelly made the jump into the NHL Senators’ lineup following a strong training camp that highlighted his play in all three zones. Impressed, Ottawa management signed him to a two-year contract extension and included him in their opening night roster. To date, he has skated in 12 NHL games and scored his first three points (two goals and one assist).
No one should think that Kelly’s NHL dream first came true this year. In fact, the native of Camrose, Alberta, worked his way into one game last season and scored a goal in his debut.
“I had a goal coming into this year. I wanted to get into a few more NHL games, and for me, it’s more about consistency,” Kelly said. “I think I go up there and have a few good games, and then have a few games where I’m not playing my best, and those are things I need to work on, making sure I’m bringing that energy every day.”
As much as he enjoys playing in the NHL, Kelly is also happy in Belleville.
“It’s a good learning experience,” he said of his season-opening stint in the nation’s capital. “I am just trying to be a sponge and soak everything up. At the end of the day, it’s not too bad if I have to come down here and work on things. The staff is great, so it makes it easy.”
Kelly also noted that the Senators organization has worked hard to help him continue his development through the current pandemic.
“It’s tough when you have to leave the rink and can’t stay too late and work on things. For the most part, the staff does a great job with video, and [strength and conditioning coach] Mitch Freeburn does a great job in the gym… They put everything in place to help you succeed the best they can.”
Belleville head coach Troy Mann relies heavily on Kelly, coveting his leadership qualities and work ethic in particular. The left-shooting right-winger, who can also play center, has proven to be a productive middle-six forward and elite penalty killer. Since being re-assigned to Belleville, he has tallied nine points, including two goals, in 18 appearances.
For his part, Kelly is optimistic about the opportunities available to young players in the Senators’ development system.
“‘If you come in with a good attitude, build your confidence every day, I like your chances,’” Kelly said he tells his teammates looking to make their way to the NHL. “Another thing I like to tell the younger guys is just help yourself out. Do what the coaches say. Stay on the ice and do the little extra things people notice. If you are doing the little things, you’re going to help yourself.”
While higher draft picks might grab the headlines and most of the attention, Kelly is delighted to build his NHL career quietly, based on effort and continuous learning.