2014 First Round Draft Pick Adrian Kempe Fits LA Kings Like A Glove

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LOS ANGELES — If there was ever a first round pick in the National Hockey League draft that fit a team like the proverbial glove, forward Adrian Kempe is that player.

Kempe, 17, was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round (29th overall) of the 2014 National Hockey League Draft, which began on June 27.

The 2014 NHL Draft will conclude on June 28, with Rounds 2-7, beginning at 7:00 AM PDT (televised on the NHL Network).

But before the 29th pick came around, the Kings tried to trade up in the first round. Later, as prospects continued to come off the board, they also tried to trade down.

“We tried to move up and couldn’t, and we were prepared to move down, but didn’t need to,” said Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti. “We absolutely tried to move up. We made four or five inquiries to try to move up when one player was sliding, but we didn’t get any traction. We didn’t get off the ground. Although we tried, it was never even close. There wasn’t any interest and not even any room to negotiate.”

“We actively tried to move up but it was a dead-in-the-water issue.”

Yanetti indicated that as the first round wore on, the Kings brain trust became increasingly concerned that none of their targeted prospects would be available when their time on the clock came.

“As the [first round] unfolded, around the midpoint, it fell the way we thought it would fall,” he noted. “We were pretty close in terms of who was getting taken off the board. We had three players in mind for that 29th pick before the draft started. It started to get very dicey as the [first round] wore on. It started to look like we may not get one of the three players we targeted, so we were fully prepared to move [down]. We had a flurry of offers and we were perfectly poised to move out of that pick. That scenario was plausible for about five or six picks, but our fears were allayed and we decided to keep the pick.”

“We had three excellent offers that all had merit,” he added. “We were ready to move out of that spot, but as it stood, [when the 25th overall pick came around], we knew we were going to get one of the two guys [we wanted] who were left.”

“It was funny because there were a ton of guys calling for the pick, but we held strong,” Mike Futa, Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel, told KingsVision. “[Kempe] was the kid we wanted and we got him. We’ll throw him off at the Development Camp to the hounds and let them go to work on him.”

The 6-1, 178-pound native of Kramfors, Sweden (lives in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden), played for MODO of the Swedish Hockey League last season, scoring five goals and adding six assists for eleven points in 45 games. He also played for MODO’s under-20 team, scoring three goals and adding 16 assists for 19 points in twenty games.

“He’s a big, strong, bullish forward who can play center or wing,” said Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting. “He likes to drive hard for the net, using his strength and skating to his advantage. He plays the body and is aggressive when forechecking. He has a good defensive game for a player with his offensive skills, he’s mobile, solid and strong. He’s a power forward, strong along the boards with smooth hands and is a very speedy skater. He’s a solid two-way forward.”

Kings scouts saw the same thing.

“Adrian is a player who we followed closely, all year long,” Director of European Scouting Christian Ruutuu told KingsVision. “He’s a great skater. He’s got good size, he’s tall, he’s a very responsible two-way player.”

“He played in the Swedish league, for MODO, as a third line/fourth line center/winger,” added Ruutuu. “We liked his bite, we liked his effort in the games and the never-giving-up attitude. He kept improving throughout the year and he played in the Swedish league with the men, so that’s a big bonus.”

“He’s kind of a power forward. With his ability to skate, his ability to move, he can play center and wing for us. We’re looking at him as a third line winger who can also play on the power play and the penalty-kill.”

Kempe, who was ranked sixth among European skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, was thrilled to join the Kings.

“It feels really good,” he said. “I’m really excited to be drafted by the Stanley Cup Champions. It’s a really good team, a really good organization. I’m really proud.”

Kempe, whose father owns a video game company and a hockey shop in Sweden, and whose mother is an insurance broker, noted that his favorite player while growing up is a current Kings star.

“When I was a little kid, Marian Gaborik was my favorite player,” said Kempe. “But now, in the past year, I like [Colorado Avalanche forward] Gabriel Landeskog and [Kings forward] Dustin Brown. They’re both very good two-way players and both are really skilled, too, so I’ve tried to look at them a lot.”

Kempe also talked about how his game fits with the Kings’ style of play.

“I’ve seen them for a few years now, and I saw them in the playoffs this year,” he said. “They’re a really good team, really physical and they have skilled players, too. They have everything. That’s why they won the Stanley Cup this year, too.”

“I think my play fits in with them really [well],” he added. “I’m a big, strong player and a good skater.”

As reported earlier, those are the qualities that got him noticed by the Kings in the first place—he fits “Kings Hockey” like a glove.

“He fits right into our mode,” Futa told KingsVision. “He’s a big kid, a tough, tough player. He’s just a competitor. He put up good numbers in Sweden. He’s just one of those kids [for whom] every game is a high stakes game. He just brings it. He’s a physical force on the wall, he plays tough, no backwards steps to his game.”

“This kid fits our style of play,” Futa added. “We had him rated—we had our cut-off list of guys who we’d be thrilled to get the first round, and he was still there.”

Yanetti was more detailed.

“He’s actually, I don’t want to say a ready-made Kings player, but in terms of how we like to build the team and what we value, in terms of heavy play and competitiveness, those are things that are already present in his game,” said Yanetti. “He has a heavy element. He borders on [being] an elite skater. He’s still got to fill out, but he’s going to be a very big kid and he plays the style of game we play already. He plays the game with purpose. It’s not just a random collection of tools.”

“I would say the biggest deficiency in his game would be fundamental puck protection and that’s due to the European style—the big rinks and the more north-south play [in Europe as opposed to] the half-court play [in the NHL],” added Yanetti. “One of the real intriguing things for us is when you look at Nelson Emerson (in charge of Player Development for the Kings) and Mike Donnelly (Collegiate Scout who also works in player development), that’s one of the things they excel at teaching—the puck protection, the half-court game.”

“He’s got everything we value in a King. He’s even got some secondary leadership qualities and the one thing we want him to be better at is the one thing I think our guys, on the development side, teach the best. Potentially, it’s a really good marriage in terms of the ground floor, to the development, to the NHL.”

Although Kempe is only 17 (turns 18 in September), the Kings do not seem to be concerned about his age.

“He’s definitely young,” Yanetti observed. “He’s a 6-2 1/2 kid who looks like he hasn’t shaved yet. He’s got a long way to go fill out, but the intriguing thing for me is that despite looking immature, physically, and needing to fill out, he’s already strong on the puck. He’s already heavy in the harder areas—he’s good along the boards, and it’s something he prides himself in. So, in terms of being young, that’s a positive.”

“He’s going to fill out,” said Futa. “He’s already a big kid. He fits right into our mode—the big, grind-you-down team that doesn’t take any steps backwards. He brings with him an exceptional skill set, too”

Yanetti indicated that Kempe will return to MODO in Sweden to play in 2014-15.

“In terms of his development, he’s already playing at an older professional level in Sweden, so his development path is set for next year,” said Yanetti. “He’ll be going back to Sweden, and in his case, I think that’s the absolute perfect place for him to be next year. He’s got one year [remaining] on his contract, so we can start discussing a future path, whether it’s the [American Hockey League] or another year in Sweden.”

“I’ve always played against [players who are one or two years older],” Kempe noted. “It was real tough to get up to the big team in the [Swedish] Hockey League this year, so I’m very glad to be there.”

Kempe can also play any forward position.

“When I grew up, I played center until I was 14 years old and then I started playing [on the wing] a couple of times,” he explained. “When I came to MODO, I played half the season at center and half the season as a winger, so it doesn’t matter. I can play both.”

“Last year, I played as a winger the whole year when I was on the A team,” he elaborated. “Next season, I don’t know if I’ll play center or maybe winger. It doesn’t matter.”

Frozen Royalty’s 2014 Summer Prospects Coverage

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