Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 3, 2018, when the 2018-19 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our sixth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. This year’s #2 prospect is Adrian Kempe.
Age: 22 (September 13, 1996)
2017-18 Team: Los Angeles Kings
2017-18 Statistics: 81 GP, 16 G, 21 A, 37 P (Playoffs: 4 GP, no points)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 2
Jewels Staff Ranking: 2
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Adrian Kempe was the Kings’ first round pick after they’d just won the 2014 Stanley Cup. It was an exciting time for many fans as the team didn’t have a long history of drafting European players, and this selection seemingly signaled that the Kings were intent on staying competitive in an ever-changing league, where an emphasis had been placed on speed and skating ability. Kempe spent the next year back in Sweden, but it was hard not to look forward to the future, especially with someone who could motor. (All apologies, but that 2014 team was uh not fast.) He made the jump to North America at the end of the season, winning the Calder Cup Championship with the Manchester Monarchs in their final year as an AHL team. For a rookie who’d only played in a few games on a smaller ice rink, he showed great poise and potential.
Curiously, last year the coaching staff decided to bring Kempe up to the NHL full time. Towards the tail end of the 2016-17 season, he had a brief stint up in LA during what ended up being Darryl Sutter’s last season. I don’t know if it ever crossed their minds, but there never seemed to be a decision of whether or not they should return him to Ontario for a little more seasoning. Perhaps it was because he never really looked out of place or maybe it was because they were sorely missing Jeff Carter due to injury (please erect your prayer circles now that no one gets hurt) and they decided to try him at center, a position he played only briefly in the AHL two seasons earlier when he previously hadn’t played since he was in juniors (don’t forget, MODO Hockey is a professional team in the SHL).
One of the negative aspects of Kempe’s play last season was how much the team bled shots at 5v5 while he was on the ice. According to corsica.hockey, Kempe’s 48.19 CF% among forwards was sixth worst on the team. If we eliminate Nate Thompson (who was by far the worst on the team), Tobias Rieder, Nic Dowd, and Mike Cammalleri due to their limited tenures in Los Angeles, he drops to third worst. That would leave Andy Andreoff, who only skated in 45 games, as worse than Kempe with a sparkling 45.59 CF%. Life is rough in the bottom six. On the bright side, of his 16 goals, 14 were at 5v5 to go along with all but five of his 21 assists, meaning he didn’t just get lucky on the power play.
Can we expect Kempe to score 16 or more goals again next season? It’s hard to say. While he was playing with MODO, he got limited ice time and didn’t score very often. His AHL numbers don’t look much better, with only 11 goals in 55 games in 2015-16. The following year was a slight improvement with 12 goals in 46 games and 2 goals in 25 NHL games. So it’s difficult to tell where his true shooting talent lies. Corsica.hockey indicates that he was getting perhaps a little lucky with a 104.1 individual PDO (reminder that 100 is seen as “normal” and anything above or below should normalize towards 100).
Hopefully with all centers healthy (prayer circles, people), he won’t be forced into a role where he did not look at all comfortable. He wasn’t great on the faceoff dot nor was he stellar defensively, both important skills in the Kings’ system. However, his speed was quite useful down the middle and he showed flashes of greatness several times, including his hat trick in Montreal early in the season.
Jon Rosen writes of the Kramfors native:
Kempe impressively made it through February 7 with a 21.0% shooting percentage that ranked fifth in the league at the time. But even as the market corrected and he failed to score a goal over his final 29 games, he still found success on the other side of the puck and was offering a sound combination of checking and hardened responsible play. Like Anze Kopitar, who, similar to Kempe is another coach’s son, he can still help the team even when he’s not scoring, and though his production would have greatly benefited the team down the stretch, Kempe still continued to develop his identity as a competitive center who plays with ample heart and toughness.
That “grit” and “heart” are a perfect match in the Kings’ system, where toughness and effort are as equally important as the ability to fill the net. Rosen also points out that Kempe excelled when he was put into “an elevated role.” As we’ve seen with other players, spending a lot of time with the so-called role players (the ultra gritty Kyle Clifford and Nate Thompson types) hampers bubble players’—guys who aren’t quite good enough for top-six and who, when paired with other low-scoring players see their production slip—abilities to generate offense.
At 22 years old, Kempe is still young, though he’s nearing his physical peak. But there’s still plenty of time for him to show that he’s not just a flash in the pan. In training camp, he’s been paired with the quick-footed Alex Iafallo. Will it last all season? Definitely not. Will it be fun to watch while it does last? Absolutely.