When a guy who was literally just drafted debuts in a top 10 position in the Top 25 Under 25, I suppose you could look at it in a couple of different ways. The optimist would say "Wow, what a great pick, this kid must have some major potential." The pessimist would say "Man, our prospect cupboard must be pretty bare if a kid we just drafted debuts at #10." Guess what- you're both right!
|10||9/13/1996||SWE||1st round, 29th overall, 2014
When looking at Kempe's numbers above, it's important to keep in mind the league he was playing in. The Swedish Hockey League (formerly known as the Swedish Elite League) is the top flight of a very strong hockey nation. When using the NHLe system to project a player's lower-level point totals to the NHL, the Swedish league is given one of the higher values. Historically, a Swedish league point is worth about 0.78 NHL points, higher than an AHL point (0.44) or Canadian major junior point (0.29), reflecting an extremely high level of play. The only leagues that ranked higher than Sweden historically were the final year of the WHA (0.89) and the former Russian Elite League (now known as the KHL, 0.83).
Using his Swedish numbers and NHLe projections, we can figure out a rough number of points Kempe would have scored had he been playing in the NHL instead. For his rookie year of 13-14, Kempe had 0.24 points per game, which using the NHLe system would have equaled about 0.19 points per game here. So had he played in all 82 games, he would have had about 16 points last season. That's obviously not very impressive, but keep in mind that Kempe mostly played in a fourth-line role for the team last year (apparently he did see some third-line minutes too, but this was rarer). Kempe's NHLe 15 points as a rookie would have put him above or about on par with Kings 4th liners Trevor Lewis (11 points in 73 games) and Kyle Clifford (8 points in 71 games). It's tough to score many points when you're limited to spot duty, is I guess what I'm trying to say here.
Already in the 2014-15 SHL season, Kempe is getting a slightly bigger role and is producing at a higher rate. It's still very early of course, but he has 3 points through his first 8 games. Should he finish the year somewhere right around 0.5 points per game in the SHL, that would be a huge step forward for him in his development.
So other than the fact that he was an 18-year-old who spent the year primarily competing with much older men and didn't look completely out of place, what else drew the Kings scouting staff to Kempe? Remember, the Kings were so dead set on drafting him that there were reports they would have traded down had another team taken him earlier. He was their primary target right from the start.
The obvious thing to point to would be Kempe's size. We all know that the Kings are a big, physical team, and Kempe seems to fit that mold. But even beyond his physical stature, he also seems willing to use that size to his advantage. His Hockey's Future profile reads like something out of Dean Lombardi's wildest fantasies: "active in all three zones", "doesn't hesitate to use his body in many capacities", "not shy to throw or take a hit to get the job done", "plays with a mean streak and shows a distaste for losing." Seriously, I bet Dean reads this to himself sometimes as a bedtime story.
But even beyond intangibles and the like, there's a lot more here that could bode well for Kempe making a smooth transition to the NHL someday. The current NHL game is a mixture of speed and north-south/forechecking play, and Kempe's skill set suggests he'll have no trouble adapting to it. The HF scouting report goes to great lengths to discuss his skating, as Kempe apparently picks up speed well with a "nice, fluid skating stride". We've already read about how he doesn't shy away from the physical game, so it should come as no surprise that he's willing and able to go to the front of the net and into the corners to battle for pucks. It sounds like he wins his fair share of puck battles too, which is even better. Finally, the piece also describe Kempe's shot as both "heavy" and "precise", a pretty nice combination.
Overall, Adrian Kempe has a ton of potential to make it to the NHL someday. His many intangibles give him a safety net of sorts; if he can't make it as a top-six NHL scorer, he could end up being a quite good bottom-six forward. It feels like his upside is something like a Swedish Dustin Brown: he'll put up some points, sure, but people will fall in love with his intangibles, compete level, etc. etc. Either way, Kempe looks like a fine draft pick at 29th overall. If Kempe does eventually end up making the Kings, it would be the second time the Kings had drafted a bonafide NHL player with their Stanley Cup-winning draft pick (you should know this already but they took Tanner Pearson 30th overall in 2012). That's not a bad bonus on top of winning it all.