By MIKE MASTOVICH
Take one NHL second-round draft pick and put him at left wing.
Insert an American Hockey League contract player with a high upside at center.
Finally, add an eight-year veteran who’s spent the past seven seasons in Johnstown, and position him on the right side.
The seemingly unlikely combination has provided the blueprint for the Johnstown Chiefs’ top line over the past month. Center Justin Kelly, left wing Adam Henrich and right wing Dmitri Tarabrin have produced eight goals and 24 points in the past 10 games. The Chiefs are a respectable 4-5-1 in that span and moved into a tie for fourth place in the ECHL’s North Division.
As a reward for their recent play, both Kelly and Henrich joined the AHL’s Springfield Falcons on Wednesday as the Chiefs began a nine-day break.
“The line’s really clicking and it’s been really exciting and fun to play,” said Kelly after assisting on all three goals in the Chiefs’ 3-2 victory over visiting Charlotte on Tuesday. “Henrich is a big man. He’s got great hands and a great shot. Demo (Tarabrin) is highly skilled with the puck. He’s a smart player and he knows the game well.
“I kind of find the holes. These guys know where to go and I find them. It’s a great mix of speed and size.”
Kelly is 6-foot-4, 186 pounds. The 24-year-old has at least one point in 17 of the 21 games he’s played for the Chiefs. In the past 10 games, Kelly has three goals, 10 assists and 13 points.
“Kelly is a great player to play with,” said Henrich, who had a goal and three points against Charlotte. “It’s been great. He’s quick with the puck. He finds me, and I find him. We have Demo on the right wing now and he’s doing a great job. We just hope to keep it going when we get back.”
Henrich has six goals and 13 points in 23 games, including two goals and three assists in his last 10 outings. The Tampa Bay Lightning selected Henrich, 6-4, 238, in the second round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He played six games with the Chiefs last season and appeared in 63 games with Springfield.
“Henrich has put together three or four consistent games,” Chiefs General Manager Toby O’Brien said. “He and Kelly have been a good pair together. The organization is trying to reward the guys who are doing the best. That’s what they’ve said from the beginning and they’re trying to live up to their word.”
Tarabrin has emerged as a key player on the top line after beginning the season as a healthy scratch and rotating on and off the injured list. Tarabrin has three goals and seven points in 18 games, with all of the goals coming in the last 10 games.
“Dmitri has gone from a filler player, an IR extra body, to a first-line right wing,” O’Brien said of the 29-year-old vet. “A lot of credit should be given to Dmitri Tarabrin for maturing, growing up and accepting responsibility in life.”
Originally, the Lightning planned to promote tough forward Brandon Elliott, but the former fifth-round draft pick injured his thumb during a first-period fight against Charlotte.
Forward Randy Rowe also had been tabbed for a holiday call up, but Rowe has been out with an abdomen injury and probably won’t return until the 9-12-7 Chiefs play at Trenton on Dec. 30, then host Columbia on New Year’s Eve.
“We’re looking forward to getting Randy Rowe back,” O’Brien said. “Mike Egener has worked out the last two days and we’re looking forward to getting him back. Two Springfield guys were called up to Tampa, and (Springfield forward) Zbynek Hrdel’s knee is injured, probably for two weeks. I think Kelly and Elliott will get a few games, then Tampa will make a decision from there.”
O’Brien said forward Paul Caponigri suffered a concussion after his head hit the ice during a second-period fight on Tuesday and probably will miss at least two to three weeks.
Mike Mastovich can be reached at 532-5083 or firstname.lastname@example.org.