After last season, and for some, even this season, many Penguins fans were ready to write off center Tyler Kennedy.
Kennedy had put up just 25 points in 2009-10, a 10-point drop off from his 35-point total in 2008-09. He had a plus-10 rating as opposed to his plus-15 rating from the Stanley Cup championship year.
He also missed significant time with injuries for the second straight year, playing in just 64 games after playing in 67 in 2008-09.
Some felt he should be traded, as he is a restricted free agent after this year. Furthermore, his $850,000 salary could have been affordable for many teams.
The trade deadline has passed, and Kennedy is still a Pittsburgh Penguin. I am very thankful for that.
In my mind, Kennedy has improved every aspect of his game from his 2009-10 campaign. If the Penguins gave out an award to the Most Improved Player, I think Kennedy should receive the award.
Here is why I think Tyler Kennedy is the most improved player on the Pittsburgh Penguins roster:
He Is Producing More
Kennedy is far from the superstar of the Penguins, but he is still putting up solid numbers this season.
He has already improved on his 2009-10 point total and has 33 points and 15 goals. His goal total matches his output from the 2008-09 season.
Kennedy has also been a big part of the Penguins’ power play unit. His five power play goals are tied with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal for third on the team.
He Is Being Used More
Kennedy’s ice time in every scenario has increased from 2009-10.
Last year, he averaged 12:34 of ice time per game, which included 18:56 of total ice time on the power play and 1:44 of total time on the penalty kill.
This season, head coach Dan Bylsma has been trusting Kennedy more on special teams. He is averaging 1:37 of ice time per game on the power play for 105:20 of total ice time on the man advantage. He has 2:37 of ice time on the penalty kill, nearly a full minute more than last year.
Kennedy’s current ice time average is 13:59 per game.
Whether it’s just because of injuries or a result of Kennedy's hard work, there is no denying that he is becoming one of the most dependable players on the team as the Penguins deal with injuries to key players.
He Wins Faceoffs
Last season, Kennedy had a losing record in the faceoff circle. He went 27-37 in 64 faceoffs for a 42.2 win percentage.
As of right now, he has improved almost 13 percentage points to win 54.8 of his faceoffs. He has a 23-19 record in 42 faceoffs and is sixth on the Penguins in faceoff wins.
Kennedy is ensuring the Penguins can get control of the puck faster and easier, which is a big part of winning games even without superstars Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
He Is Coming Through in the Clutch
Kennedy carved his spot in Penguins' history during the home opener at Consol Energy Center on October 7. He scored in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers to give himself a goal in Pittsburgh’s last three home openers.
He has also come through at other times this year. He scored the game-winning overtime goal on Feb. 16 against the Colorado Avalanche and tallied the Penguins’ lone goal in this past Friday’s loss to the New Jersey Devils. Despite the fact that Pittsburgh lost its second straight game, Kennedy was named the second star.
Back on Feb. 23, he scored with 50 seconds left in regulation against the San Jose Sharks. His goal forced overtime, and although the Penguins lost, he finished with a two-goal performance, one of his six multiple-point games this season.
Although Kennedy’s goals don’t always lead to wins for the Penguins, he is still contributing and shining as one of the best players on the ice.
He is Stronger
Kennedy has added more of a physical edge to his game this year.
He stands at 5’11” and 183 pounds and is 11th on the team with 69 hits. He has already improved on his total of 67 hits from last season. He also has 35 penalty minutes and is not afraid of dropping the gloves. Back in November, for example, he fought New York Rangers pest Sean Avery for the second time in his career.
It is also worth mentioning that Kennedy is in better health this season.
In the past two seasons, he missed at least 10 games each year with injuries and illness. But this year, he has missed just two games.
A healthier player will be able to contribute more to the team, and Kennedy has used his health to his advantage.
Kennedy has improved in virtually every way possible. He is a third or fourth line player most nights, but he is still valuable to this team.
Do you think that he is the Penguins' most improved player? Will he have a strong finish to the regular season and be a contributor in the playoffs, or do you think his play will drop off down the stretch, thus making every argument I've made here meaningless?
As always, let me know in the comments.
Alison Myers is a Pittsburgh Penguins and NHL Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report. You may e-mail her at Alison.Myers@mail.com or follow her on Twitter.