As an unrestricted free agent, winger Tyler Kennedy could have skated in plenty of places to make sure he’s ready for the season.
He’s from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and played junior hockey there. He started last season with the San Jose Sharks and finished with the New York Islanders.
But he chose Pittsburgh — Cranberry to be precise, joining a group of Penguins players who are staging informal preseason workouts at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. And frankly, it was an easy decision.
“I’m a yinzer now. My wife’s family has turned me into a yinzer,” Kennedy said Tuesday, sitting in his own private locker room after skating for about an hour. “We have a home here. Pittsburgh has been so welcoming. It’s nice to see people still recognize me and recognize what we did here. We’re going to start a family here. Pittsburgh’s got a real special spot in my heart.”
General manager Jim Rutherford said the Penguins “haven’t discussed” the idea of bringing Kennedy into training camp on a tryout like they are with defenseman Sergei Gonchar.
As much as Kennedy has grown to love the city, despite his wife being from Mt. Lebanon and the fact they have a home in the Green Tree area, he’s not necessarily angling for a return to the Penguins.
He’s not trying to prove to one team that he still can be an effective third-line winger at 29. He just wants one of the league’s 30 GMs to believe that.
“I tried my best last year. I did everything I could to have a good year, and things didn’t really work out,” Kennedy said. “I hope my agent does a good job. I have a lot of faith in him.”
Kennedy had his best moments as a pro with the Penguins. A fourth-round draft pick in 2004, he spent six seasons with the team, winning a Stanley Cup in 2009 and scoring a career-high 21 goals in 2011-12.
He hasn’t been as successful since being traded to San Jose in June 2013 and signing a two-year, $4.7 million deal with the Sharks shortly thereafter. Last year, he had six goals and 14 points in 38 games in a season split between the Sharks and Islanders and marred by injuries.
The tough season left him hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career on a down note.
“I’ve got nothing to lose,” Kennedy said. “It might be good for me. Less pressure on me. I was making a little bit of money there, felt like I had to produce. Now I feel like I can do out there and play my game, my skating game.”
That’s what he did Tuesday, skating with some old friends, feeling healthy, getting ready for a phone call from a GM that he hopes comes soon.
“I feel great. I feel like I should’ve trained like this five years ago,” Kennedy said. “It’s not the situation you want to be in, but that’s life. I think it’ll make me stronger as a person.”