Flip of a Switch: How Adrian Kempe Became a 40-Goal Scorer
A shift in mindset helped LA Kings' forward Adrian Kempe unlock the next level of his potential. Now he's a 40-goal scorer.
Adrian Kempe is a 40-goal scorer.
The 26-year-old achieved the milestone in the LA Kings' regular season finale against the Anaheim Ducks, finishing with 41 goals on a long empty-netter to seal the game. Kempe tallied his fourth career hat trick on the play while helping the Kings take the three-game season series against their rivals for the first time in team history.
Additionally, he became the first Kings skater to score 40 or more goals in a season since Luc Robitaille during the 1993-94 campaign (44). He is the ninth different Kings skater to record a 40-goal season in team history.
Rightfully so, expectations were high for Kempe coming into this season.
The Swedish forward potted a then career-best 35 goals in a contract year during the 2021-22 season. The Kings rewarded Kempe with a handsome payday over the summer, but given his streaky history, it was a risky move.
Prior to last year, he never had more than 16 goals in a season, a mark which he set in his first full NHL season back in 2017-18.
Kempe got off to a great start this season, potting goals in three of his first four games. However, topping last year's goal total was something that had never crossed his mind.
"Just try to stay with my game and try not to focus too much on where I'm at in terms of goals and stuff like that," he said. "I'm playing with some really good players, and they're looking for me all night. So I'm very happy that I'm out there with those guys."
Being hyper-focused on numbers alone can be a distraction in terms of the overall team goal.
After all, the Kings were fresh off taking the heavily-favored Edmonton Oilers to seven games in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kempe pushed the Oilers to the brink of elimination with the overtime winner in Game 5.
Ultimately unable to close out that series, Los Angeles proactively acquired Kevin Fiala last summer, who was coming off a career-best season with the Minnesota Wild.
Kempe primarily played on the Kings' top line this year, playing alongside Anze Kopitar and Fiala. He also got an extended look playing with 20-year-old Quinton Byfield, who had went through a stretch in March potting nine points in ten games in that role.
Regardless of who was out there with him, Kempe was put in a position to succeed, which all started with a shift in his mindset to put the puck on net more.
"A couple of years ago, I felt like I had a lot of good looks. I was a pass-first guy, and I figured out that if I tried to put the puck on net a little bit more, it will go in," Kempe said. "It was kind of a switch that went off in my head. Coming into last year, I think was the biggest step I took in terms of volume shooting, so I just tried to keep that going this year."
Kempe registered career-highs in shooting percentage (16.4%), shots on goal (250), and average time on ice (18:45). Obviously, the more time on the ice and more shots on net, the better the results.
Breaking down his 41 goals, Kempe tallied a career-best 11 powerplay goals, which were a huge piece in the Kings' turning around their powerplay woes from last year. Los Angeles finished with the fourth-best powerplay conversion (25.3%), a significant uptick from the sixth-worst (16.1%) a season ago.
"I’m really proud of him, I’m happy for him, the team’s happy for him, it’s a good rallying point," Kings head coach Todd McLellan said. "The fact that he’s been able to elevate his play, almost on a weekly basis, he just keeps getting better, is a real good sign for him as an individual and us as an organization for a long time.
"He’s less streaky than he was in the past, scores big goals and scores them from all over the place, and while he’s doing that, he’s physical and defending well. A hell of a year and a hell of a player."
The Kings are set for a rematch with the Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they'll need Kempe to keep putting the puck on net when the opportunities present themselves.