When Ray Shero named John Hynes head coach of the New Jersey Devils, it was a signal that the former Penguins GM was going to bring some of Pittsburgh to the Garden State.
Hynes had spent the previous five seasons as head coach of the Penguins’ AHL-affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and was among multiple personnel who came from the Steel City to a long-time division rival, approximately 360 miles east. One was the hiring of assistant coach, Alain Nasreddine.
In August, I wrote about some of the Devils options for training camp invites on professional tryouts. Before I even looked at the rest of a thin free agent crop, I jotted down Tyler Kennedy’s name. Kennedy, who was traded from the Sharks to the Islanders last season, played seven seasons in the Penguins’ organization. He was apart of both the 2008 team that lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals and the 2009 team that defeated Detroit in seven games for the cup.
Since being traded by the organization in 2013, his play has dipped considerably scoring 10 goals in 105 games. He was invited to training camp with the Devils on a professional tryout in September, but left camp early for personal reasons and was released on Oct. 3. After going unsigned roughly a month and a half into the regular season, Kennedy re-joined the team on Nov. 18 on another tryout. On Nov. 27, he earned a one-year, two-way contract.
In two games with the Devils, Kennedy has registered two shots on goal and has seen a steady increase of ice time going from 6:51 on Friday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Canadiens to 11:33 on Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win Saturday at the Bell Centre, part of a home-and-home with Montreal. He began on New Jersey’s fourth line with Bobby Farnham and Stephen Gionta, before being slotted to the second line in the third period of Saturday’s game with Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. Tuesday at practice, he was on the third line with Sergey Kalinin and Jacob Josefson.
Clearly, the Devils have liked what they’ve seen out of Kennedy in a short sample size, forcing Stefan Matteau and Brian O’Neill to sit for the second-straight game.
While Kennedy’s bottom-six pedigree earned him multiple looks and a contract from the Devils, it doesn’t hurt to have a former teammate behind the bench.
Kennedy began his professional hockey career with the Penguins AHL squad in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2006-07. There he scored an impressive 37 points in 40 games. Among his teammates was Alain Nasreddine, a 31-year-old defenseman with his fourth NHL organization, having played in just 24 NHL games. Nasreddine was an AHL regular, serving as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s captain from 2004-2006 and frequently being called up for brief stints before returning to the AHL. By 2006-07, he was on the back end of his pro career, though he surpassed his total career games played in one season, suiting up for 44 games with Pittsburgh, recording a goal and four assists–his only points he’d score in the NHL.
The following season was largely spent again with the Pens’ AHL affiliate, playing just six games in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the 21-year-old Kennedy got his first NHL call-up in 2007-08, spending the bulk of the season in Pittsburgh where he recorded 19 points in 55 games. He never looked back, playing the next five seasons exclusively with the NHL Pens, scoring 149 points in 317 games.
Following the conclusion of the 2007-08 season, Nasreddine signed with the Nuermberg Sinupret Ice Tigers of the DEL in Germany where he played his final two seasons of professional hockey before returning to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as an assistant coach under Hynes.
After five years of coaching in the AHL, Hynes was named the head coach of the Devils in June. Several weeks later, Nasreddine was named one of his assistants. Now, nearly 10 years after the two were once teammates, 29-year-old Kennedy is on the bench of an NHL team yet again, though that might have looked cloudy a month ago. Meanwhile, Nasreddine is behind an NHL bench–something that had to have seemed unlikely most nights on the road in minor league hockey.
If the insinuation of a two-way contract is that one must work to keep their job, then Kennedy, now with his fourth organization, needs only to look behind the bench to remind him of how true that notion rings.