Kennedy earns place on Penguins' top line
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Tyler Kennedy has played 19 games in the National Hockey League.
During that time, he has gotten six goals, four assists and a spot on the Penguins' No. 1 line.
He has done something else, too. Something far more impressive than any statistic: He helped to make Mark Recchi, a likely Hall of Famer, obsolete.
Oh, Kennedy isn't the only reason Recchi lost his place in the Penguins' plans and ended up going to Atlanta on re-entry waivers; Recchi's disappointing production (two goals and six assists in 19 games) obviously had a lot to do with that.
Still, Kennedy's play after being recalled from the Penguins' minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre helped to make Recchi expendable, because it proved the team had a capable replacement for him.
"He showed us he's ready to play at this level," coach Michel Therrien said.
Fact is, Kennedy has shown enough to claim a spot on Sidney Crosby's right wing. Therrien plugged him in there in the third period of the Penguins' 4-1 loss Thursday to Ottawa, then shifted Kennedy there again early in their 3-2 victory Saturday on Long Island.
A victory that, coincidentally enough, was secured by Kennedy's goal at 14:16 of the second period, when he knocked in a Jordan Staal feed from the left side of the crease.
"I like the chemistry those two gave us in the third period [Thursday], there's no doubt," Therrien said. "He's playing well, that kid.
"I didn't want to put him with Crosby right away [Saturday] because sometimes a kid would feel a lot of pressure. We put him there on the second or third shift."
Drawing that assignment says a lot about how Kennedy has been playing. So does the fact that at Saturday's game-day skate, Islanders coach Ted Nolan took a break from praising Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to toss a compliment at a forward whose profile is considerably lower.
"Tyler Kennedy is playing well for them," said Nolan who, like Kennedy, traces his roots to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Kennedy underscored Nolan's point by ringing up the first three-point game of his NHL career that evening.
Kennedy replaced Colby Armstrong on the top line, and how long he'll remain with Crosby and Ryan Malone remains to be seen. His skating, high-energy style and offensive instincts mean he's hardly miscast in such a role, however.
"He's going to bring speed, and he's scored a few goals, too," Crosby said. "He's a guy who's going to be on the puck a lot, create some turnovers."
Staal, who played against Kennedy in the Ontario Hockey League, predicted last week that he was destined to work as a top-six forward.
"I think he could be a top-two line guy and just bring energy," Staal said. "Score some goals and make plays. He has the potential to do that.
"He's going to have some ups and downs here, as any player would when he's starting out, but I think he's started off with a bang and he's going to play steady hockey."
Kennedy's promotion to the first line suggests his next trip to Wilkes-Barre might be a social one, after the season is over. Then again, he still is living in a hotel, not an apartment or house, so Kennedy isn't taking his place with the Penguins for granted.
"I think I'm getting a little comfortable," he said. "But I know that if I start playing badly, I'll be right back down in the minors. I have to play hard every night to prove myself, let the coaches know they can trust me in any kind of situation."
As well as things have gone for Kennedy, he has had a few misgivings. Like Thursday, when, with the Penguins trailing Ottawa, 2-1, he passed on a chance for an uncontested shot from the slot, opting to go to the net and get off a backhander that Senators goalie Martin Gerber was able to stop.
"I should have just shot," Kennedy said. "I kind of out-thought myself."
Every player second-guesses himself at times, of course. The key here is, Kennedy has given management no reason to do that about putting him on the major-league roster.
"He's a gritty little kid," Therrien said. "We like his intensity.
"As long as he keeps working hard, the way he's been working, he's a good addition to our club."
First Published December 17, 2007 12:00 am