was enjoying a solid rookie season in the NHL.
Since his call up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in late October, the 21-year-old forward carved out a good niche in Pittsburgh. His speed, hustle and ability allowed him to collect 12 points in his first 29 NHL games.
He developed a knack for scoring at key moments, too, for the Penguins. His four game-winning goals are tied for first on the team.
Kennedy gained league-wide recognition, too, as he was selected to participate in the NHL’s YoungStars event during the All-Star weekend.
Then, he was diagnosed with mononucleosis in January and his hot start came to an abrupt halt.
Now that he’s recovered from that illness, he worked his way back into the Penguins’ lineup.
“Stuff happens and I was pretty upset about it, but you just have to work through things and whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he said. “I just tried to work as hard as I could to get back and I am just glad to be here.”
Feeling constantly fatigued, Kennedy sat out four of six games in Pittsburgh before he went on the injured list with mono. He missed six Penguins games while on injured reserve and three more while he went to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to get his game back on track.
The time off the ice hurts any hockey player, but Kennedy has worked even harder to earn a return trip to Pittsburgh. He enjoyed a breakout game Wednesday night with a goal and two assists against the Sabres.
“I am feeling pretty good. I have a little room to improve,” he said. “I have to be a little stronger on the puck and things like that, but I think it will come in time. I feel better every day, so I just want to keep working harder and getting better.”
Jeff Taffe found himself skating on a line with Kennedy when the two were in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the start of the season and now in Pittsburgh. He’s been impressed with what Kennedy has been able to do in his short NHL stint.
“It was obviously great to see. You always like to see the younger guys succeed. I was a little surprised to see he was scoring so much, but that’s just the type of person he is,” he said. “He just doesn’t think about the game too much and just goes out and works hard and plays hard and good things happen for him.
“Whenever you miss even a week or so, it’s hard to come back. Mentally, I think it was a letdown for him to not be able to participate in the YoungStars Game. It was great that he got named to it and I think his confidence would have just kept going, but there are still a lot of games left in this season. Once he gets one or two (goals) here, he’s just going to take off again and I think that’s what this team needs,” he continued. “I think he’s playing great. He’s the type of guy that plays hard no matter what. He doesn’t let it bother him that he was out a little while. He just plays the same game, a speed game and throws pucks on the net and I think that’s what we need.”
Speed is a huge asset for Kennedy, who is listed at 5-11 and 183 lbs.
“I just want to get on the puck as hard as I can and hustle and work hard and try to get guys to turn over pucks and go from there,” he said. “I was pretty surprised to have the early success. I was putting up a couple goals left and right for a short time. I was pretty surprised. I was just happy to be here the whole time I was here and I think that’s what maybe made me play so well. I was just happy to be here and wanted to do the best I could.
“Whoever thought I’d go from the AHL to being on the YoungStars in the NHL? It was quite impressive, so I was pretty happy.”
Taffe has been impressed with Kennedy’s quickness. The two have played on a line, at times, with Connor James, another speedster.
“It’s such a big deal. Maybe 10 years ago, it wouldn’t have been as important, but it’s a different game now,” Taffe said. “It would have been harder for Tyler with all the clutching and grabbing, but now you can’t hold a guy like that. He and Connor James are so fast and so small, when we dump the puck in, we have a great chance of getting it back and I think that’s huge in this day and age.”
“We’re not the biggest guys, so if we can use our speed to help our line create some chances or some turnovers, I think that’s what they want us to do,” he said. “Tyler has definitely done well for himself. I think he definitely took advantage of the opportunity he was given and really run with it. You could see it coming. Last year, he was probably our best player [in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton] until he got hurt. So, he didn’t play a lot in the second half of the year. This year, at the very beginning of the season, he was probably one of our better players, too.
“I am not surprised he’s had success, but it’s definitely great to see he’s had so much success,” he continued. “We all knew he’d succeed, but what he’s done is really something else. I definitely think he raised his game to a higher level. He’s definitely a better player than he was last year. He works hard. You could always tell he has the speed and a good shot and the confidence in his game to use it. It’s great.”