When the Tampa Bay Lightning traded away defense head-case Roman Hamrlik they acquired center prospect Steve Kelly from the Edmonton Oilers.
Kelly has been up and down between the Oilers and the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, not quite able to stick with the big club. He has all the tools to become a great third line center or perhaps second line winger. Perhaps with Brian Bradley’s career in jeopardy, Kelly may fit into the second line center roll eventually. What he lacks is confidence.
Steve Kelly’s game is speed. The 6’1″ 195-pound Vancouver native was touted as the fastest prospect available in the ’95 NHL Entry Draft held in Edmonton, fans booed with Oilers GM Glen Sather chose Kelly 6th overall, as they chanted “Doan Doan Doan” – obviously wishing Sather would have drafted Edmonton native Shane Doan who later went to the Winnipeg Jets. But the Oilers were high on Kelly and let him develop by playing another season starring for Prince Albert of the WHL. He was one of only two players that season to score 100 points while also racking up 200 PIM.
What Steve Kelly isn’t is a goal scorer. Barely a 30-goal man in his best season in the WHL, and netting only 9 goals in 48 games for the Bulldogs last season, it’s obvious that scoring goals isn’t in his resume. Kelly is a playmaker and a good one at that. He has a great work ethic and attitude, plays a gritty game and is not a defensive liability even at the ripe young age of 21.
The problem that Steve Kelly faced in Edmonton was that there is currently quite a logjam at center in Alberta’s capital. Doug Weight, Mats Lindgren, Jason Arnott, Rem Murray, Todd Marchant and Boyd Devereaux were all ahead of Kelly on the center ice depth chart. Steve would get very few shifts per game and would spend much time in the AHL. He racked up a perhaps disappointing 38 points in 48 games with the Bulldogs last season, though it should be noted that he played through injuries most of the season. However, with just 9 points in 10 games this season with the Bulldogs, it appeared as though Steve Kelly was destined to linger in the organization much like Tyler Wright (12th overall in ’91) years back before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he played his first full NHL season in ’96. Glen Sather is the last guy to give up on a prospect that could really be something on his team.
Will Kelly find the linemates and confidence he needs to take his game to the next level as an NHL center in Tampa Bay? Only time will tell.