If there's a player who embodies what the Ottawa Senators are under head coach D.J. Smith, Parker Kelly is a prime example.
An endlessly hard-worker who possesses a work ethic through the roof, Kelly keeps defying the odds and once again proved that Tuesday by signing a two-year contract extension with the Sens that becomes a one-way deal in the second year.
"Pretty crazy how quick it got done but it's something I've been working hard for and it's a dream come true," Kelly said. "I couldn't be happier. I like the city, I like the team, I like the staff, I like the players, so it was an easy decision for me."
It was likely an easy decision for the Sens too. Despite having just one NHL game under his belt, it's clear that Kelly is a factor when he's on the ice.
"He's an organizational player when it comes to what we're about," Smith said. "He just puts his head down and goes. He does anything for the team … he brings us energy, he's a smart player and a good penalty killer.
"I think he's a guy who's going to be around here for a long time."
It's easy to say it's another chapter to Kelly's almost improbable rise to becoming an NHL player, but at this point, new chapters are expected rather than dreamed about.
The Camrose, AB., native was invited to Ottawa's development camp in 2017 and made such an impression that he penned an amateur tryout with the team for the rookie tournament and then Ottawa's training camp later that year. He parlayed that into an entry-level contract with the team on Sept. 19, 2017 and went back to the WHL's Prince Albert Raiders where he had a standout four-year career that concluded with a trip to the 2019 Memorial Cup.
After turning pro and playing 90 AHL games with Belleville, Kelly got the call to make his NHL debut May. 12 against Toronto and we all know what happened that night.
Smith has already confirmed that Kelly will be in Ottawa's lineup Thursday when they open the 2021-22 season against the Maple Leafs.
"Looking back to the first game last year, that was a pretty surreal moment," Kelly said. "I feel a little more confident coming into this game. The only thing that's going to be a little bit more fun is having the fans in the building and I can't wait for that.
"To look back, see how far I've come, all the steps I've had to take and the hard work, it's pretty cool."
Written off numerous times, Kelly admits that's what's fueled his fire. But while that's been part of his motivation, the credit goes to his parents, Kevin and Joanne, for everything they did to help Kelly achieve his dreams.
The Kelly's still live in Camrose, and while they won't be in attendance for Thursday's opener, and unfortunately had to miss his NHL debut, they will soon get the chance to see Kelly play an NHL game for the first time.
"My parents really helped me out and sacrificed a lot," Kelly said. "They made sure I got to the rink … drove us to hockey all the time. I'd like to fly them out and hopefully they can come watch a game because those are the two people who mean the world to me."
And when they see their son wearing a Senators jersey for the first time, they're going to see a player who knows his role and one who, as he has every day prior, continued to believe in himself.
"The way D.J. wants the team to play, I think I fit that role," Kelly said. "My job is pretty simple: bring energy, hit guys and be hard on the puck so if I can do that, I like my chances."