It was a rare rookie year and a sudden jolt in the summer. With one year in the NHL under his belt and with relatives and friends coming to HSBC Arena to see his games, homegrown Tim Kennedy found himself adrift after a surprising buyout by the Buffalo Sabres in the last week of July.

                     “Most teams had stocked up by them because free agency started July 1,” recalled Kennedy, 24, who grew up on the south side of the city, about eight minutes from the rink. “It was unfortunate. My arbitration was in the third week of July and I didn’t expect it (the buyout) at all.”

                      The award was for $1 million, too rich for the Sabres taste, and the club bought him out for $333,000. “At that point, I heard from a couple of teams and we (his agent) tried to figure out what was the right fit.”

                      The Rangers phoned about two weeks ago, he said, and closed the deal during the weekend. Kennedy, who scored 10 goals and 16 assists in 78 games and three points in six playoff games, said playing in New York (“an hour’s flight from home’’) would be a terrific opportunity.                       

                      “Last year, I was just happy to be playing in the league, and for me, Buffalo was great,” he said in a phone conversation earlier today. “Most kids move away at early age, and then never get a chance to play for a team you grew up watching.”

                       After playing for the Portland Pirates, Kennedy started last season on a line with Sabres Mike Grier and Jochen Hecht, then as injuries forced changes, spent the last quarter bouncing between the 1st and fourth line, playing left wing and center. “I thought my game improved, though,” he said, and the numbers support that theory. In 16 games in March, he posted seven points. “It was a learning curve.”     

                        Kennedy also learned about the game in his first international competition, for Team USA in the World Championships, with Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Gilroy. “We had a couple tough losses in OT,” he said, “and then we had to beat Finland and gave up too many chances.”

                         With the Rangers beginning informal workouts today, Kennedy said he would fly here later this week for a day or two to meet coaches, trainers and staff and then head back home to gather his belongings and relocate long before camp begins on Sept. 17.

                        “I haven’t spoken to him yet (coach John Tortorella), but it seems like last year: there may be a couple open spots and you have to earn it.”  Told the type of style that Torts appears to prefer, he said “That’s the kind of player I am: be fast, compete and be chippy.”

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