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Pens' prospect Kennedy makes smashing impression

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007

On a conscious level, Penguins prospect Tyler Kennedy never decided to jump Montreal right wing Guillaume Latendresse in the second period of their game Tuesday night.

All he did was react to seeing defenseman Ryan Whitney blindsided into the left corner boards.

"It was a first, and I kind of had to do it," Kennedy said. "You don't let anyone hit your good players from behind, and I was kind of put in the situation where I had to do it."

Kennedy was given 17 minutes of penalty time -- including instigation and fighting majors -- an eternity to miss when you're trying to earn a spot among the most highly skilled forwards in the NHL. But what he did in that altercation may have done more to open some eyes within the organization than the goal he scored with three minutes to play in the Penguins' 5-2 win.

"He comes to the defense of his teammate -- and he was a much bigger guy than Tyler was -- and he just started whaling away," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. "It was great."

Such high praise usually doesn't come to someone sent to the penalty box for the better part of a period. But players such as the 21-year-old Kennedy, who still are trying to earn their NHL sweater and a spot in the dressing room, will do anything required.

Then again, seeing Kennedy on the ice in an NHL game, even a preseason game, is an improvement over the way last season finished for the Penguins' 2004 fourth-round draft pick. He spent the final two months in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton press box watching the AHL affiliate play while he nursed an abdominal injury that was eventually diagnosed as a sports hernia. Kennedy had surgery in the offseason, and, two rookie camps aside, this is the first time he's been in game situations against veterans since the injury.

"It feels fine, and I'm just trying to get my timing back," Kennedy said. "I'm just trying to get my positioning right and work on my own game right now."

Ryan Stone is in a situation similar to Kennedy's. The 2003 second-round pick missed 32 games because of a torn ligament in his left wrist that required surgery and kept him out of the Wilkes-Barre lineup for more than two months.

Stone also scored a goal Tuesday against the Canadiens in his first preseason action, but he admits that, unlike Kennedy, his injury has forced him to make certain changes to his game.

"I don't think my shot's as hard as it was," Stone said. "I like to think that it's more accurate."

Despite their injuries, both players figure prominently in the Penguins' long-term plans. Each switched positions, from center to wing, because of the glut of talented players in the Penguins top three lines, and each has proven he can score at the AHL level.

The two have disparate games. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Stone is a left-handed shot who plays a more physical style, works the corners and takes a beating in front of the net. The 5-foot-11, 183-pound, right-handed Kennedy is a shifty speedster with excellent vision and anticipation.

Still, even if both players fail to make the Penguins roster, there is always the chance they could be recalled during the season. A year ago, forwards Erik Christensen and Maxime Talbot started the season in the AHL before taking advantage of a call-up to play prominent roles during the team's run to the postseason.

"If guys don't make it up here out of training camp, it's not the end of the world," Shero said. "The whole camp is a forum for the impression they're going to leave our coaches ... so that if we need a player, we'll bring them up because of that impression they left on our coaches."

Notes: Petr Sykora will miss preseason games against Detroit on Friday and Saturday after breaking his nose in Tuesday night's game. The right wing is scheduled to have the nose reset on Friday. ... The Penguins reassigned goaltender John Curry to Wilkes-Barre of the American Hockey League. ... While at Boston College last season, Curry and the Penguins' 2004 eighth-round draft pick, goaltender David Brown of Notre Dame, were finalists for the Hobey Baker Award given to the best college player in the country.

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