Before the season began, Jared Bednar's biggest concern with TJ Tynan was his size.
The rookie is listed at 5-foot-8 -- the smallest on a Springfield Falcons roster made up of mainly players 6-foot-plus -- and plays a defensively demanding, two-way position in center.
But now, after almost a full American Hockey League season, the Falcons coach's concerns have been completely alleviated.
"I think at first when you see a smaller, undersized guy that has some skill, you wonder as a coach, 'How is this guy going to play in traffic against bigger opponents every night for the course of a really long season?'" Bednar said. "The worries I had as a coach have really dissipated over the course of the season. He's proven to me that he has the ability to be a top player every night on both sides of the puck."
After finishing his collegiate career at the University of Notre Dame with 161 points in 164 games, Tynan, a third-round pick (No. 66) of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2011 NHL Draft, made his professional debut with Springfield last April.
Though he was scoreless in those three games with the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate, Tynan's familiarity with the club helped the 23-year-old jump right in at the start of the 2014-15 season.
"I think your first year you're just learning, because obviously I've never been a part of anything like this," Tynan said. "It's my first experience, but coming in this year already knowing some of the guys and the coaches really helped a lot."
The grind of the 76-game AHL schedule almost always becomes any rookie's biggest adjustment, with the long bus trips and the three-in-three sets on the weekends. Players coming out of college feel this the hardest, usually having played the equivalent of two full NCAA seasons by the end of one AHL regular-season calendar.
"It's definitely been different. Playing three games in a weekend is not something I'm used to," Tynan said. "But I think talking to the other guys, they help you out. You just have to listen to your body and get the proper rest and hydration and nutrition and things like that. The people around me have definitely made it easier."
Tynan has missed only one of the Falcons' first 70 games, a note that has not gone unnoticed by Springfield brass.
"He's a durable player," Bednar said. "To be able to take that physical play against players every night is something that's really impressed me. He's earned my respect and his teammates' respect. He's a player that we lean on every night."
A native of the Chicago suburb of Orland Park, Ill., Tynan leads the Falcons in assists (32) and points (42), and heads into the weekend riding a four-game point streak. He has pieced together an impressive rookie season as Springfield continues to battle for a Calder Cup Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
As a freshman with the Fighting Irish in 2010-11, Tynan led the team in scoring with 54 points in 44 games and was named the CCHA conference's rookie of the year, joining a list of winners that includes the Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty, the Columbus Blue Jackets' Mark Letestu and the Philadelphia Flyers' R.J. Umberger.
Tynan majored in business marketing, completing all four years at Notre Dame before turning pro last season. The decision to stay in school was never in question, nor was the decision to be a hockey player.
"Getting my degree and staying four years was really important to me, but I never really thought about what I wanted to get into," he said. "I just always wanted to be a hockey player, and that's what I was always working towards. I was lucky enough to be signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets and it's been a great experience so far."
After Tynan had 10 points in 15 games in the month of November, Bednar saw a slight decline in his energy. But like clockwork, the coach's worries were eased as quick as they arose.
"It was short-lived. He's really done a good job at being one of our most consistent players all season," Bednar said. "For a young guy, his compete level and his will and want to make a difference every single night is exceptional. He holds himself to a high standard and wants to be a go-to guy every night, and I think that is what makes him a successful player."
For a team that has seen four of its players make their NHL debuts this season with the Blue Jackets and 10 more spend significant time on recall, Tynan's durability and consistency has been a mainstay on the Falcons' offensive front. His number is bound to be called soon.
But for now, Tynan, like most players, knows that call is out of his hands.
"I'm happy to see guys go up and a lot of them do really well. Hopefully that happens, but it's out of my control and I know that," he said. "I'm just worried right now about the Springfield Falcons and making the playoffs."
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Author: Kinsey Janke | Special to NHL.com