24. Parker Kelly (Reader Rank: 25, Last Year: N/A)
A few years ago, the Ottawa Senators went into the 2017 NHL Entry Draft with just four picks as a result of trades made to prepare for the team’s playoff run that year. Though their first-round selection of Shane Bowers didn’t pan out, second-rounder Alex Formenton and fourth-rounder Drake Batherson have turned that draft into more of a success than virtually all that immediately preceded it.
Owing in part to their limited draft capital, 2017 was therefore a year that the Sens were particularly active with non-drafted players. Every year teams will invite a few undrafted players to their annual development camp, and for those who impress the brass enough, the next step is typically an invite to the main training camp. It’s still vanishingly rare for an undrafted player to immediately crack an NHL team just months after going undrafted. Which brings me to my decision to keep an eye on Parker Kelly in 2017.
Kelly’s unusual success that summer and fall landed him an entry-level contract with the Sens before several of his peers that had been drafted had put pen to paper. That deal from Ottawa was an incredible vote of confidence. Why wait for the following draft to bring him into the organization and run the risk of him being taken by another team? Even if Kelly didn’t pan out, the risk is virtually nothing.
The Camrose, AB native spent all four years of his junior career with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. He posted 43 points in 72 games in his draft year and eventually improved to 67 points in 64 games in his fourth year of junior in 2018-19. Given those numbers, one might not expect NHL potential beyond that of a fourth-line player. Still considering Kelly only cost the Sens a contract slot, that’s a pretty good outcome on its own.
It took some time for Kelly to acclimate to the AHL; despite managing just one goal in his first 21 games of his first pro season, he followed up with 15 points in 36 games. This past season, he improved to 18 points in 33 games while nearly doubling his shot rate. He did enough to earn a callup to the big club for their final game of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it’s safe to say this was his quickest transition yet.
You just know he went to the Scott Sabourin School of Scoring in Your Debut Against Toronto. It’s such a greasy goal, too: the puck falls right to Kelly as he pops back up from a hit by Morgan Rielly (no relation to the far superior Mike Reilly, by the way) and it barely crosses the goal line. Part of what makes the goal so enjoyable is the mix of confusion and sadness from Leaf fans: “Who just scored?”
That said, it’s the kind of goal you can expect Kelly to score more often than most because he’s bouncing back from the ice like he’s made of rubber, and because he’s always moving with purpose. All of this shines through in his debut, and it goes far beyond a single goal. You want numbers? How does an 11-3 differential in 5v5 shot attempts sound?
Granted, there really isn’t much at all we can ascertain from a single game, but for a 22-year-old forward, it gives us a glimpse of what Kelly might be able to do for the Senators in a few years. He certainly fits into the identity they’re trying to build. There’s been many an occasion where we’ve heard the phrase “tough to play against”, which can easily be applied to any good team in the NHL — but Ottawa clearly wants their players to physically wear down the opposition over the course of a game, and Kelly projects to fit perfectly into this style. I tend to think he’s ready for a bottom-six role, but since he’s got one year left on his entry-level deal there’s no reason not to give him some more AHL seasoning.
Even if his role on the team is a limited one, expect Kelly to have an impact on the Senators’ success should his development pan out. He’s been a leader for Prince Albert during the 2018-19 season in which they competed for the Memorial Cup, and was a two-time recipient of the Jonathan Pitre Memorial Award, handed out to the hardest worker during the Senators’ Development Camp. Those intangibles could be a difference-maker if the Senators find themselves in a playoff spot in the next few years.