It may not be coming exactly when the Hurricanes wanted, but Matt Kennedy is finally ready to begin his professional career.
Kennedy, the team’s fifth-round pick in 2009, recently completed a five-year stint in the Ontario Hockey League. Selected by the Hurricanes as an older player due to his breakout 73-point season in 2008-09 (he recorded just 22 and 21 in his first two years of draft eligibility), the team was taken by surprise when he elected to return to juniors rather than suit up full-time in the American Hockey League.
Despite being limited to just 43 regular season games due to head and groin injuries in his most recent campaign, Kennedy, now 21 years of age and taking part in informal practices at the RecZone ahead of his second taste of NHL training camp, stood by his decision.
“I had a pretty good fourth year (prior to being drafted) and I wanted to continue to build my confidence and get lots of playing time in all situations,” he said. “I think I can bring that and some more playoff experience to the table this year.”
Even with his injury problems, Kennedy did have a strong finish to the season, scoring 15 points in 17 games during Barrie’s run to the OHL finals, losing out to eventual Memorial Cup Champion Windsor.
Some Hurricanes fans may already be familiar with the nature of Kennedy’s head injury, as the open-ice hit he suffered in January resulted in a 20-game suspension for Buffalo Sabres prospect Zack Kassian and was part of a larger discussion about the danger of headshots around the hockey world. Despite the gruesome video
, Kennedy said that his concussion was actually quite mild, only causing him to miss about two weeks of game action.
“It wasn’t really serious, but watching the hit is always tough,” he said, adding that it was nothing compared to the groin issue that kept him out for two months. “It looked a lot worse than it was. I’m lucky my helmet stayed on when I hit the ice.”
Kennedy was quick to dismiss rumors that surfaced around that time suggesting that he was considering retirement, saying the thought did not cross his mind. Reports of his injury history were also somewhat exaggerated, as his three concussions, while not insignificant, are less than other estimates.
“My body feels great,” he said. “I’ve worked really hard this summer to stay healthy and have done a lot of injury-prevention training.”
Kennedy made news with a five-game suspension of his own, but the circumstances were quite different. The infraction, termed “bullying” by the OHL, came when he sought retribution for a teammate while playing for Guelph in December.
“An older guy like me went after one of our really young players and beat him up pretty good, so I let him know that that won’t work,” said Kennedy, who was serving as his team’s captain at that time. “I challenged him to a fight and dropped the gloves, but he never fought back.”
Although he regretted the suspension, Kennedy, whose stocky 6-foot-2, 202-pound frame lends itself to a rugged style of play when healthy (he twice flirted with 100 penalty minutes in junior), didn’t seem particularly remorseful for his actions.
“I guess I didn’t really expect him to not fight back after he had just fought a 16-year-old,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “You can’t do that.”
Now under a two-way contract with the Hurricanes, Kennedy is expected to start the season in Charlotte of the AHL.