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Versatile Kelly acquired from Senators

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By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / February 16, 2011

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Since Jan. 22, when Marc Savard was felled by what would be a season-ending concussion, the Bruins have been on the hunt for another center. They gave Zach Hamill a three-game look. They’ve considered Tyler Seguin.

But all along, they preferred a center with experience. Last night, they got their man in Chris Kelly, acquired from Ottawa for their own 2011 second-round pick. Kelly slots in as Boston’s No. 3 center behind David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins had two second-rounders — their own and Minnesota’s, courtesy of the Chuck Kobasew trade last year.

“He has a lot of playoff experience,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “He’s good on faceoffs. He’s a high-character person. He plays both ways. We needed a centerman that’s going to give us some depth. Chris gives us that.’’

The 30-year-old Kelly has ties to Chiarelli, formerly Ottawa’s assistant GM, and ex-Senator Zdeno Chara. The Senators drafted Kelly in the third round in 1999. The lifelong Senator had his best year in 2006-07, when the Senators advanced to the Stanley Cup final against Anaheim. That year, Kelly scored 15 goals and had 23 assists in 82 games. In 20 postseason games, Kelly has three goals and four assists.

According to www.capgeek.com, Kelly carries a $2.125 million annual hit. Kelly is under contract through 2011-12.

Kelly has carved out a niche between Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil on Ottawa’s energy line. This season, Kelly has 12 goals and 11 assists in 57 games while averaging 15:38 of ice time. The left-shot center averaged 2:46 of shorthanded ice time per game, most of any Ottawa forward. The 6-foot, 190-pound Kelly has won 50.1 percent of his faceoffs.

Kelly plays an in-your-face game but also has a sprinkle of skill to his game. He can also play on the wing.

“He’s smart,’’ said Chiarelli. “He knows where to go. He’s a good skater. He fills lanes. That speaks to his hockey sense. He’s always been one of the first [penalty kill] guys. One of the things I’ve known, at least when I was in Ottawa, all the top lines always wanted him as a linemate. He’s a dependable guy on a line and he can make plays.’’

Even before Savard suffered his latest concussion, the Bruins had been dissatisfied with their performance up the middle. Bergeron has been carrying the offense between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi. Gregory Campbell has filled the club’s needs on the fourth line. But Savard hadn’t found his offensive tempo before his injury. Krejci has been inconsistent all season. For the most part, Seguin has looked every bit the teenager he is. The team gave Blake Wheeler several looks at center, but he hasn’t given them the presence they’re seeking.

In Kelly, the Bruins now have a veteran they’ll need if they are serious about a deep postseason run.

Kampfer returns On Sunday, Bruins coach Claude Julien gave Steven Kampfer an off-ice assignment. Watch, from the Joe Louis Arena press box, how poised puck-moving defensemen make the easy play, not necessarily the standout one. Kampfer had two of the game’s best to follow: Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Neither disappointed.

Prior to Detroit’s third goal, Lidstrom started the breakout with a tape-to-tape pass to Darren Helm. Just before Detroit’s fourth, Rafalski eluded a Krejci forecheck with a backhand chip off the glass. Seconds later, Todd Bertuzzi was finishing a two-on-one rush by slamming the puck past Tim Thomas.

“He just makes it look so easy,’’ Kampfer said of Lidstrom.

Prior to Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Detroit, Kampfer had appeared in 29 straight games since his Dec. 8 recall from Providence. He had been a find. The rookie had four goals and five assists while averaging 18:24 of ice time per appearance, mostly alongside Zdeno Chara. But for the last handful of games, neither Kampfer nor the coaching staff thought he was playing as aggressively as before.

“I don’t think I was really slipping,’’ Kampfer said before last night’s game. “I just don’t think I was doing things with a sense of urgency as much as I was in the beginning stages.’’

Kampfer was back with Chara last night. He had one shot in 17:55 of ice time.

Versteeg scooped The Bruins had been kicking the tires on Kris Versteeg, the former draft pick they traded in 2006-07 to Chicago for Brandon Bochenski. In hindsight, it was Chiarelli’s most ill-advised deal. On Monday, the Flyers plucked Versteeg off the Toronto roster for a first-round and a third-round pick. Last June 30, with Chicago facing a cap crunch, the Leafs acquired Versteeg and Bill Sweatt from the Blackhawks for Viktor Stalberg, Christopher Didomenico, and Philippe Paradis. “I remember when I was a rookie GM, I asked Harry Sinden back in ’92, ‘Any advice?’ ’’ recalled Toronto GM Brian Burke. “He said, ‘Yeah. When you make a mistake on a player that’s not working out, fix it.’ “Kris just didn’t mesh here. It’s no fault of his. He’s a good player. He’s a good guy. He worked hard. It just wasn’t a fit.’’ Versteeg could have slid into a third-line role in Boston . . . Daniel Paille returned to uniform last night after serving his four-game suspension for clobbering Dallas’s Raymond Sawada with a blind-side hit. Paille skated on the fourth line with Campbell and Shawn Thornton and scored in the first period to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. With Paille returning, the Bruins assigned Jordan Caron to Providence . . . Hamill was demoted Sunday after a three-game stint with the big club. But Julien didn’t see that as a negative. “I think we saw Zach make some good plays and he was seeing the ice well,’’ Julien said. “He’s going to continue to work on his game.’’ . . . Mark Stuart, a healthy scratch for eight straight games before dressing Sunday, remained in the lineup last night. Johnny Boychuk was a healthy scratch for the first time this season . . . Last night was the Bruins’ final home game before the trade deadline. They play the next six on the road, through a March 1 match in Ottawa.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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