25. Parker Kelly (Reader Rank: 24, Last Year: N/A)
We kick things off on this year’s Top 25 Under 25 with a man with the same curse as myself: a first name that sounds like a last name to go along with a last name that sounds like a first name. It’s yet another way in which I think of him as an underdog beating the odds to be a pro hockey player.
Kelly scored 43 points in 72 games for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders in 2016-17, with a strong second-half of the season (29 points in the final 30 games) putting him at 192 on the NHL’s pre-draft rankings of North American skaters. He ended up going undrafted, with his scoring stats not setting him apart, and neither his height (5’ 11”) nor weight (168 lbs) giving teams a reason to bet on him during the crapshoot of the last few rounds.
In June 2017, Kelly received an invite to the Senators’ development camp. There was nothing unusual about this, since teams generally invite a number of undrafted players to supplement their rookie squads. In fact, Kelly’s Prince Albert teammate Brayden Pachal (no NHL affiliation) went to the same camp. For the 2018 development camp, the Sens invited 19 undrafted skaters.
What was unusual was the way Kelly stood out compared to his undrafted peers. He ended up earning an amateur tryout contract with the Sens, playing with the team through the annual rookie camp and then main training camp. He was returned to Major Junior in September, but not before signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Sens. Since he’d gone undrafted, he was technically a UFA. Though not unheard of (Josh Gorges did the same thing as an undrafted 18-year-old with the Sharks in 2002), this was a decidedly unusual path to pro hockey.
Kelly had a productive year as an assistant captain with Prince Albert, with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games, and four more points in seven playoff games. He also had a brief five-game stint with the Belleville Senators, scoring his first professional goal. He was named co-winner of the inaugural Jonathan Pitre Memorial Award (formerly the Hardest Worker) with Brady Tkachuk at the 2018 Sens Development Camp.
Due to only being 19, Kelly will be returning to Prince Albert barring making the big club out of camp. The team will be looking for a big season out of him in the WHL to prove that he will be a pro contributor. In the end, the Sens spent nothing to acquire this player, and if he turns out to be even a decent AHL player, his development should be considered a success.
For more reading about Kelly, you can check out this scouting report from Eye on the Sens.