BOSTON — When the Bruins acquired Chris Kelly last year just before the trade deadline, they knew they were getting one of the top defensive forwards in the game. They knew about his ability to kill penalties and win key draws. And thanks to general manager Peter Chiarelli's time spent in Ottawa, they even knew a little about the intangibles and leadership Kelly could add to the team.
Kelly delivered on all those expectations and then some when he played a vital role in Boston's run to the Cup last spring, and his importance to the team was recognized this year when he was named one of the club's alternate captains.
But one quarter of the way through his first full season in Boston, Kelly has suddenly emerged as something no one in the organization ever envisioned — a go-to offensive producer.
Kelly scored two more goals on Saturday, tying the game with a shorthanded tally and adding the eventual game-winner at even strength to lead the Bruins to a 4-2 come-from-behind victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
Kelly now has nine goals and 16 points through 22 games, putting him on pace for 34 goals and 60 points over a full 82-game slate. By comparison, the eight-year veteran's current career high for goals is 15, which he scored for Ottawa in both 2006-07 and 2009-10, while his top point total was 38 back in 2006-07. He had 14-14-28 totals last year in the regular season, then added 5-8-13 in 25 playoff games.
"I think we knew he could provide us with some [offense], but to this point right now he's probably exceeded what we expected of him," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "But that happens a lot in the season. Guys have great starts and they do well and other guys have slower starts and that's what balances things out sometimes. We're fortunate to have him playing this well and scoring that much for us."
For his part, Kelly doesn't see himself in any different light. He still sees his first responsibility being preventing goals by the opposition, and his plus-15 rating shows he hasn't slacked in that department.
"I'm more defensive-minded than offensive-minded," Kelly said. "I think over the years, I don't like getting scored on and obviously when you get a goal it's a bonus, but just playing well in all three zones and when my feet are moving and I feel good. [Saturday] I felt good. First period we were kind of back and forth but the second period, obviously I felt well and the same in the third."
Kelly didn't even take much credit for the two goals he scored on Saturday, heaping the praise instead on linemates Rich Peverley and Benoit Pouliot. That praise was justified, too, with Peverley making the initial shorthanded drive to the net that Kelly followed for the goal and Pouliot setting up the other strike with a nifty crossing pass.
"I just happened to be kind of, right place, right time, especially that first one," Kelly said. "You know, Rich, he's probably one of the best skaters in the league and he takes the puck to the net. Like, a lot of guys don't, but he just happened to be rewarded with that one and it was a great pass by Benny on the second one."
Kelly even had a chance at the hat trick, but fired wide at the empty net with just over 20 seconds left in the contest.
"As soon as I shot it, I knew it was wide," Kelly said. "I just pulled it a little bit too much and obviously you want those ones back, but by no means am I going to dwell on that."
If his linemate is correct, he might not have to dwell on it long, as Pouliot is convinced Kelly still has a hat trick ahead of him.
"That's unfortunate, everyone wanted to see Kells get the hat trick," Pouliot said. "But I'm sure he'll get one later on."
"Kells has been great," Pouliot added. "He's been like this all year long so far and it's a matter of just keeping that going, but the way he's been going I think he's not going to stop."
Pouliot has played against Kelly plenty in the past, and saw enough that he may be the only one not surprised by Kelly's production this season.
"Kells has always been a good player," Pouliot said. "Now he's getting the chance to play maybe a little more offensive and he's not missing. He's shown he can play both ends of the ice and right now he's one of our top offensive guys. It's actually pretty fun to watch and pretty fun to play with him."
Julien is enjoying having another weapon at his disposal as well.
"Kelly continues to have a real good year for us," Julien said. "He's one of those guys that flies under the radar most times. There are always bigger names that get mentioned ahead of him, but he's been probably one of our most consistent forwards this year and continues to impress on the stat sheet.
"It's something that's not necessarily at the forefront of his pedigree, but at the same time he's one of those guys that is contributing so well for us and that's giving our team a lot more depth with scoring. And with Peverley on his line right now and Pouliot who is playing better, they've made up a really good line for us."