WILMINGTON — When Chris Kelly was injured Dec. 7 — his right fibula fractured on a slash by the Penguins’ Pascal Dupuis — the timeline for a return was four to six weeks. But Saturday marks seven weeks since the injury.
Kelly has had to be patient, but he might finally be nearing a return. He skated with the team on Thursday for the first time since the injury, though not at full contact.
“I was excited to come today,” Kelly said. “It’s been a little bit longer than I would have liked, but it’s all part of the process of getting better, and today was a good step in the right direction. It’s just one day at a time, and today was better than yesterday, so I hope tomorrow is better than today and we’ll go from there.”
His return could complicate matters for the Bruins, who have installed Ryan Spooner as the center on the third line between Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson. Kelly wore a gray practice jersey on Thursday, along with the members of the third line.
Coach Claude Julien wasn’t definitive when asked whether Kelly will slot into his usual spot upon his return. “I don’t know when he’s going to be back. Hopefully within the week,” said Julien. “I think it’s going to progress hopefully quickly and we’ll see where he is by that time.
“When that comes, then we’ll make that decision.”
Spooner, who has 11 assists in 22 games, gives the team more speed and more playmaking ability. Kelly is far better on faceoffs and defensively, and is a factor on the penalty kill. Kelly, though, also has the ability to play wing, something the Bruins do not seem to want to do with Spooner.
“There are no issues there,” said Kelly. “At center, you skate a little bit more than the wing. But I think if you can play center, you can play wing. Some wingers might beg to differ, but I’ve played wing in the past. It’s nothing new to me.”
Asked what the Bruins miss most about Kelly — his leadership, his work in all three zones — Julien said, “All of the above. When you look at his experience, faceoffs, again, good two-way player, reliable. His leadership. I think he’s been missed.”
Kelly will make the trip with the Bruins this weekend for games against the Flyers (Saturday) and Islanders (Monday).
Miller earned reward
Kevan Miller, the 26-year-old rookie who has stabilized the Bruins’ back end in times of need, received a two-year, $1.6 million contract extension on Tuesday. He has played 16 games with the big club this season, averaging 16:53 of ice time with one goal and one assist.
“It’s obviously a good feeling,” said the Los Angeles native. “You never want to get too comfortable, you always want to kind of be on your toes. But it’s a good confidence booster.”
“He’s earned it,” Julien said. “It’s pretty obvious he’s come in here and played some pretty solid hockey and he’s been rewarded for it.
“No doubt for a player it certainly gives you that confidence and security that you’re always looking for. But he’s still on a two-way [contract] this year, so he’s got to be careful.”
Miller is known especially for his strength — “He’s an animal, that guy,” Tuukka Rask said — after he matched Zdeno Chara pullup for pullup in fitness training. Both defensemen completed 31. And Miller translates that strength to the ice.
“He really takes pride in taking care of his own net, own end,” Rask said. “I think once he gets even more comfortable he’s going to have that offensive threat to him, too. He’s been really solid defensively, a good add for our D.”
Hamilton also skates
Dougie Hamilton also skated with the team for the first time since his injury, a concussion. Hamilton has been out since Jan. 11, missing four games. It’s the second absence for Hamilton this season. He suffered an MCL sprain, costing him 10 games. He came back for five games, then was injured again. The defenseman took light contact but has not been cleared for full contact. Julien said he was not sure whether Hamilton would come on the trip . . . Adam McQuaid was the only Bruin not on the ice. The defenseman left halfway through Sunday’s game against the Blackhawks with a leg injury, and missed Monday’s game against the Kings. “His injury is an injury that’s really hard to assess,” Julien said. “That’s why I’m giving you that day-to-day thing because nobody, even medical staff, have been able to pinpoint a time. So, it’s day to day. It depends how he heals. Could be shorter, could be longer. We’ve just got to go about it on a day-to-day situation.” . . . With Hamilton not yet cleared and McQuaid remaining off the ice, Zach Trotman was recalled from Providence on an emergency basis. Trotman already had been recalled once this week, on Sunday, and been returned to the AHL on Tuesday.
Rask was wearing a new set of pads, white with a blue stripe. He said they were his Olympic pads, which arrived in preparation for his trip to Sochi as a member of Team Finland . . . The Bruins are still not sure whether Chara will miss one game or two before heading to Russia to be the flagbearer at the Opening Ceremonies for the Slovakian team . . . David Krejci, who will play for the Czech Republic, expressed some reservations about heading to Sochi, given the security concerns. “I told my family not to go,” he said. “But my mom wants to go, so I cannot stop her. I would prefer if she didn’t go. I understand everybody who doesn’t want their families to go. It’s a kind of scary situation.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.