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The Departed - Tyler Kennedy - 08-01-13

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

 

The Departed" series on Empty Netters is a set of "eulogies" for former Penguins who have passed away... to other teams. Essentially, we look back on their time as a Penguin, examine their contributions to the franchise and, as real eulogies occasionally do, exaggerate a bit. Today's eulogy is dedicated to Tyler Kennedy.

It was never easy for Tyler Kennedy. 

Fourth-round picks don't have their tickets punched to the NHL. They have to prove themselves. They have to earn the big checks and rides on the luxury jets to cities like New York in Montreal as opposed to the AHL paydays and bus rides to Binghamton and Hershey.

Chosen 99th overall in the 2004 draft (98 and 97 picks after Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin respectively), Kennedy didn't blow anyone away as a 17-year-old who stood 5-foot-10 and weighed 183 pounds.

During his last two junior seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Kennedy turned out two impressive 20-goal seasons before turning professional in 2006. In his first professional season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of 2006-07, Kennedy appeared in 40 games and scored a solid 37 points for a team with a slightly bloated roster as a result of an affiliation-sharing agreement with the Edmonton Oilers.

After starting the 2007-08 season once again in Wilkes-Barre and earning that league's first player of the week honor of the season, Kennedy was summoned to the NHL in late October when veteran forwards Georges Laraque and Gary Roberts were sidelined due to ailments.

Playing primarily on a line with Adam Hall and Mark Recchi, Kennedy pleased demanding head coach Michel Therrien who remarked, "He has what we're looking for. He brought us some intensity, and I think he did a good job for his first game in the NHL. He brought us the energy we were looking for."

Kennedy would get his first career goal off a cycle, a tactic which would become a staple during his career, during a 3-2 road loss to the Islanders, Nov. 3, 2007. The goal was a laser of a wrister which wasn't immediately recognized by officials but a review confirmed the score:

Eventually, Kennedy settled onto the team's third line with Jarkko Ruutu and Jordan Staal. That trio would strike for the first time when Kennedy snapped off a wrister by goaltender Martin Gerber in a 6-5 comeback road win, Nov. 22:

After the New Year, health derailed Kennedy's rookie season a bit as he missed several games in January and February due to the flu and mononucleosis. He would return to the lineup but in the final 24 games of the regular season, Kennedy was limited to two goals. His rookie campaign would see him play in 55 games and score a respectable 19 points. 

In the postseason, Kennedy, Staal and Ruutu were vital to the team's return to the Stanley Cup Final as a shutdown line. They helped the Penguins romp through the first three rounds of the postseason in just 14 games by taking on the top offensive lines in five-on-five play against the Senators, Rangers and Flyers. Offensively, Kennedy was limited in terms of production as he only produced four assists. His most notable assist came off a turnover which he was able to spring Ruutu for a pseudo-breakaway goal which proved to be the game-winning and series-clinching goal in a 3-1 road win in Ottawa, April 16:

Kennedy would show off another occassional element of his skillset in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final - a 4-2 home win against the rival Flyers, May 11 - when he fought Flyers forward Scottie Upshall at the start of the contest:

The Penguins would lose to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final and entered the offseason with plenty of uncertainty. With the likes of Ruutu, Roberts, Laraque, Ryan Malone, Marian Hossa and others departing, Kennedy was all but guaranteed a full-time role with the team in 2008-09.

Opening that season in Sweden with back-to-back games against the Senators, Kennedy had a two-goal effort in a 4-3 win, Oct. 4. His second goal came in overtime against Gerber off a strong individual effort:

The remainder of the calendar year did not go as well for Kennedy who only four goals in the next 23 games before a kneed injury in early December sidelined him for 14 games. He would return in January but his fortunes, nor the team's would improve. As Kennedy struggled with only three goals in January, the team slumped to 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings. Following an ugly 6-2 road loss to the Maple Leafs, Feb. 14, 2009, the Penguins fired head coach Michel Therrien and replaced him with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

With the additions of forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin in trades as well as the return of defenseman Sergei Gonchar from a preseason shoulder injury, the Penguins surged down the stretch of the regular season and finished in fourth place. In 67 games that regular season, Kennedy scored 35 points, including 15 goals. Kennedy, still entrenched on the third line with Staal and now, Matt Cooke, played a significant role in that hot streak. In a vital 4-1 road win against the Panthers, March 5, Kennedy scored two goals, including the eventual game-winner:

As this all occurred, Kennedy began growing a bit of a cult following simply because of his last name. Piggybacking off the popularity of WWE wrestler Ken Kennedy's gimmick of simply showing his last name, the Penguins arranged a video goal celebration with the wrestler which was played anytime the hockey player found the back of the net at the Mellon Arena:

In late March, Kennedy would start an individual rivalry with Rangers antagonist Sean Avery. During a 4-3 home win, March 28, Kennedy dropped the gloves with Avery:

Kennedy and his line would find ways to contribute in the postseason as well. In Game 1 of an Eastern Conference final against the Flyers, Staal stole a puck and created a three-on-one with Kennedy and Cooke. Kennedy slunk in off the left wing and beat goaltender Martin Biron for the eventual game-winning goal in a 4-1 victory:

A week later, Kennedy took a pass from Cooke and flipped a backhander by Biron for another eventual game-winning goal in a 3-1 road win in Game 4 of that series:

Kennedy's production would be limited in the next two rounds against the Capitals and Hurricanes. He would find his scoring touch when it matters most however in a rematch with the Red Wings for the Stanley Cup. Protecting a precarious one-goal lead late in the second period of Game 4 at home, Kennedy buried a tic-tac-toe goal off passing from Kunitz and captain Sidney Crosby behind Sidney Crosby to secure the Penguins a series-tying 4-2 win:

After getting blasted, 5-0, in Detroit in Game 5, the Penguins returned to Mellon Arena for a do-or-die Game 6. Thanks in part to Kennedy, the Penguins did. Taking a pass off forward Maxime Talbot, Kennedy banged in his own rebound behind Osgood for another eventual game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory:

The Penguins would win Game 7, 2-1, and claim their third Stanley Cup championship. During that postseason run, Kennedy led the team with three game-winning goals.

The Penguins raised a new Stanley Cup championship banner at the Mellon Arena to open the 2009-10 season and it was Kennedy who would score the eventual game-winning goal in their final home opener at that building. In a 3-2 win against the Rangers, Kennedy re-directed a shot by defenseman Alex Goligoski behind goaltender Henrik Lundqvist:

As the Penguins raced out to a 9-0-2 start, Kennedy would begin that season on a pretty productive pace as he scored six points, including three game-winning goals, in those first 11 games. Injuries would snuff out his momentum and force him to miss most of November. He never seemed to regain his form as he was held to a single assist in December. In 64 games that regular season, Kennedy scored only 25 points. Kennedy's woes continued in the postseason as injuries limited him to 10 games and no points. The Penguins would fail to successfully defend the Stanley Cup and lost to the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference semfiinal round.

With Staal sidelined until midseason due to foot and hand injuries, Kennedy's production struggled much of the first three months of the 2010-11 campaign. He did find a way to ensure himself a piece of Penguins history however as he scored the first Penguins official goal at brand new Consol Energy Center during a season-opening 3-2 loss to the Flyers, Oct. 7:

On New Year's day, a lot of things changed for the Penguins and Kennedy as Staal returned to the lineup while Crosby suffered a concussion in the Winter Classic at Heinz Field, a 3-1 loss to the rival Capitals. Staal's return and Crosby's absence (as well as a long-term knee injury suffered by Malkin in February) would provide Kennedy a chance to produce his best season. After scoring only five goals in the first three months of the season, Kennedy would score 16 in the final four months and help drive the short-handed Penguins to a fourth-place finish in the standings.

Kennedy stepped up almost immediately. With Malkin being injured earlier in the contest, Kennedy used Sabres defeseman Jordan Leopold as a screen and ripped a wrister by goaltender Ryan Miller for a game-tying goal in a 3-2 comeback home win, Feb. 4:

With the Penguins reeling after back-to-back losses to the rival Islanders and Rangers, Kennedy came through again. Late in overtime, Kennedy banged in a rebound by goaltender Peter Budaj to give the Penguins a 3-2 road win against the Avalanche, Feb. 16:

In a 3-2 overtime loss to the powerful Sharks, Feb. 23, Kennedy forced overtime and earned the Penguins a point in the standings by going ot the net and punching in a loose puck with 50 seconds remaining in regulation:

In another odd piece of history, Kennedy scored the first goal for the opposition in what would prove to be the final game in the history of the Atlanta Thrasher, a contest the Penguins won, 5-2:

The Penguins faced the Lightning in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Kennedy had the dubious honor of scoring the team's only power-play goal in the series during a 3-2 road win in Game 4:

Unable to compete with the Lightning's superstar forwards such as Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, the Penguins were edged in seven games.

During that offseason, as the entire hockey world was enveloped in the possibility of the Penguins re-signing former captain Jaromir Jagr, Ray Shero dutifully re-signed Kennedy, a restricted free agent, to a two-year contract and eventually withdrew an offer to Jagr. Any momentum Kennedy hoped to carry over from his breakout season was snuffed out by a concussion in October of 2011 which sidelined him until mid-November. After an unspectacular December and January, an ankle injury landed him on injured reserve in February of 2012.

A return from head and neck injuries by Crosby in sparked Kennedy's game who was given an opportunity to play on a line with the Penguins' captain as well as Cooke. In Crosby's first game back, Kennedy recorded two assists. Hard work by Kennedy led to Cooke scoring the first goal of a 5-2 road win, March 15:

Kennedy's regular season was limited to 60 games and only 33 points. He would rebound in the postseason. In a wild Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Flyers, he scored six points in as many games. He was reunited with Staal and Cooke by the time that series rolled around and that trio was the team's most consistent line in the series.  A chip play by Kennedy would lead to a goal by Staal which tied Game 5, 2-2:

A cycle play by that line would lead to Kennedy scoring the eventual game-winning goal of a 3-2 victory:

Despite the efforts by that line, the Penguins would lose Game 6 and entered an offseason of uncertainly. The biggest offseason maneuver saw the Penguins deal Staal to the Hurricanes and get Brandon Sutter back as part of the return. Sutter was expected to pick up where Staal left off as the No. 3 center. Ideally, he could just be plugged in between Cooke and Kennedy without issue. While Sutter and Cooke seemed to display instant chemistry, Sutter and Kennedy never seemed to click.

Following the lockout which delayed the 2012-13 season until January, Kennedy moved up and down the lineup and even got a cup of coffee playing the left wing with Malkin and forward James Neal. Nothing seemed to work as he only produced two goals in January and February combined. 

His game seemed to come around a bit in March as he scored a few key goals in the midst of a historic 15-game winning streak. During a crazy 5-4 comeback win in Philadelphia, March 7, the Penguins rebounded from a 4-1 deficit to claim victory. Kennedy score the game-tying goal:

In a 3-0 shutout of the Rangers, March 16,  smacked a power-play goal by New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for an insurance score:

On March 24, Kennedy ripped a shot by Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov for a 2-1 victory, the 12th win in the streak:

A slew of trades by management would cut into Kennedy's playing time eventually. The additions of forwards Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow Jussi Jokinen would make Kennedy a healthy scratch heading into the posteason. As the playoffs began, Kennedy, the player who had come up big for the Penguins so often, was relegated to watching the first four games of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Islanders on television from the team facilities.

After the surprising Islanders drew even with the Penguins, 2-2, in the series, Byslma inserted Kennedy back to the lineup for an energy boost. Kennedy provided that and much more. Taking a pass from defenseman Kris Letang, Kennedy bore down on Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and snapped a wrister into the cage for a breakaway goal which held up as the game-winning score in a 4-0 shutout win:

In Game 6 on Long Island, the Islanders overwhelmed the Penguins with a strong forecheck and held a lead most of the contest. The Penguins eked out a tie thanks to a deflected goal by Paul Martin late in the third period. Controlling the puck deep in the New York zone, Kennedy slid a pass to defenseman Brooks Orpik at the left point and set him up for the series-clinching goal in overtime:

After dispatching the Senators in five games during an Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Penguins were swept by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. That loss would end Kennedy's career in Pittsburgh

At the draft in June, the Penguins dealt Kennedy's signing rights as a restricted free agent to the Sharks in exchange for a second-round pick.

In 372 career regular season games with the Penguins, Kennedy scored 168 points, 48th-most in franchise history. In 76 postseason games, he scored 27 points, 19th-most. He also scored six career game-winning postseason goals for the franchise. The only player who scored more for the Penguins were luminaries such as Jagr, Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Ron Francis and Malkin.

During his time in Pittsburgh, it became fashionable to rag on Kennedy. He played a frustrating game at times with inopportune turnovers and a lack of creativity. Watching him race up the wing and pound several slappers into the chest of a goaltender could get frustrating.

One thing no one could deny is that Kennedy gave every ounce of energy he had in his body. And more often than not, he came through when it mattered most.

(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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