Kelly will travel with Bruins, approaching return

Kelly will travel with Bruins, approaching return
January 23, 2014, 4:30 pm
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WILMINGTON – While Claude Julien couldn’t say exactly when center Chris Kelly is going to return to the lineup, the third line pivot will be taking the road trip through Philadelphia and Long Island with the rest of the Bruins this weekend.

Kelly also returned to the practice ice with his teammates on Thursday for the first time since his right ankle was fractured by a Pascal Dupuis slash back on Dec. 7. The 33-year-old had been skating on his own for more than a week prior to joining the Bruins on Thursday at Ristuccia Arena.

There’s no circled date on the calendar for his return, but Julien said he expected it to be “within a week.”

“He’ll make the trip. I don’t know when he’ll be back, but he’s progressing well,” said Julien. “When you look at his experience with face-offs, good two-way player, reliable and his leadership, I think he’s been missed. But other guys have stepped in, and have done a pretty good job.”

Kelly has missed 20 games and counting with the injury, and still wasn’t been cleared for “full contact” as of Thursday afternoon. But he did don the gray practice jersey along with Carl Soderberg, Loui Eriksson and Ryan Spooner, and knows a return to the lineup is in the making. Clearly the numbers don’t jump off the page with three goals and seven points in 29 games while averaging 14:59 of ice time, but Kelly brings along plenty of the intangibles that his coach mentioned.

“It’s been a little bit longer than I would have liked, but it’s all in the process of getting better. Injuries are a part of the game, and the training staff has done a great job getting me to this point,” said Kelly. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. Today was better than yesterday, and I hope tomorrow is better than today.

“I think I’ve done everything I need to do. The conditioning felt great. You can never simulate the physical aspect of the game, but I felt great today.”

The question that remains for Kelly is where he will return in the Bruins lineup. Rookie center Ryan Spooner has definitely given the Bruins’ third line a faster, more offensive look, and gives the team exactly the kind of fleet-footed skating speed they’re always in need of. Spooner has also been a factor off the half-wall on the power play with six of his 11 assists coming on the man advantage.

But Spooner doesn’t have the face-off abilities, experience or defensive aptitude that Kelly does at the center position, and those are all things highly valued by the Bruins coaching staff.

Given his choice, clearly Spooner would want to remain at the NHL level to continue flashing his dazzling offensive skills, and putting some polish on his overall work at center. But he also knows things like the numbers game on an NHL roster are out of his control.

“I’ve played some guys here where I could have done better, but I think that’s to be expected in a first year player,” said Spooner, who has 11 assists in 22 games with his game tailing off a bit lately. “Consistency is something I’m trying to work on right now. I’m not focused on the future. If they send me down then I’m going to go down [to Providence] and focus on the things they want me to work on.

“I think being here and being in this environment, and just watching the other centermen, would be good for me. You can look around the locker room at guys like Bergeron and Krejci, and they’ve mastered that [consistency]. Each game they go out there and play pretty solid games. If I look at things like that, then I can take something out of their games.”

There could be a scenario where Kelly moves to wing, and the Bruins keep the explosive Spooner as the third line center. A winger would have to come out of the lineup for all of this to take place, but Kelly said he’d have no problem moving to the wing if that’s what the team needed.

“I’ve played both. There are no issues there. At center you skate a little more than the wing, but I think if you can play center, then you can play wing,” said Kelly. “Some winger might beg to differ, but I’ve played there. It’s nothing new to me.”

It sounds like the Bruins will be making their choice within the next week, and it should be fascinating to see how it works for Kelly, Spooner and the rest of the bottom six forwards.