2015 ROOKIE CAMP: Frozen Royalty’s coverage of the Los Angeles Kings’ 2015 Rookie Camp continues with a story on how Ontario Reign head coach Mike Stothers sure seems to be gushing with excitement about Los Angeles Kings 2014 first round pick/forward prospect Adrian Kempe.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — After playing for Modo in the Swedish Elite League last season, left wing prospect Adrian Kempe, who was the Los Angeles Kings’ first round selection (29th overall) in the 2014 National Hockey League Draft, wasted little time in making the trip across the Atlantic Ocean to join the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League for their playoff run.
The 6-2, 187-pound native of Kramfors, Sweden, who turns 19 years old tomorrow, played in the Monarchs’ final three regular season games, but like so many young players moving up a level, not to mention making the transition from the European style of play to how the game is played in North America, Kempe struggled a bit in those games.
“It was pretty hard when I [got] there, in the first couple of games,” he said. “It was tough. It was different from Sweden, but I got into it after a couple of games, and I played better and better [throughout] the playoffs, and in the [2015 Calder Cup Final], I felt pretty good.”
“There’s bigger ice in Sweden,” he added. “You have a little bit more time with the puck in the offensive zone, so in the first couple of games, when I got the puck at the hash marks, I had to keep my head up because I got hit. I didn’t have as much time with the puck.”
“[The North American game] is a little bit faster. I had a little bit more opportunities with the puck in the offensive zone here, and you can take shots more often here than you can in Sweden, so that gives you more [scoring] opportunities.”
But then-Monarchs head coach Mike Stothers indicated that Kempe really wasn’t too far off the mark upon arrival.
“It had to be a big adjustment for him, but I’ve seen other players in similar situations take a lot longer to adjust and adapt,” said Stothers. “He figured it out pretty quick. He was used to playing a certain way, but he realized we did things a little differently, and that if he wanted to get into the lineup, he need to do that, and he bought in. He was a big factor for us in the playoffs.”
Kempe worked hard to lower the learning curve.
“I just tried to learn at practice,” he noted. “It was hard in the first couple of games to get into it, but I just tried to play my game, and to play the game the coaches and the team wanted. After a couple of games, I felt better and better.”
It did not take Kempe long at all to impress his coaches.
“You know what? Man! He came in and did a heck of a job for us,” Stothers exclaimed. “I mean, he can skate, he’s got good hockey sense, and he’s a unique player in that he can skate at the same speed while carrying the puck, which is fast. Most guys can’t do that.”
“I said it at the end of the year, I wish we had him all season long, just to see how much more he might’ve improved,” Stothers added. “He was terrific.”
Even more impressive was that Kempe managed to do all that while facing the intense pressure of a long playoff run in which the Monarchs won the 2015 Calder Cup Championship.
“I had a pretty good finals,” said Kempe. “I scored some pretty good goals in front of the net, [but] I want to [get] better at that, because I have size. I get more ice time when I play like that. I [scored] some really important goals in front of the net. That’s one big thing I want to be better at.”
Kempe scored eight goals during that playoff run, and had to fight off opposing teams who were targeting him, including Manchester’s first round opponent, the Portland Pirates.
“When I [got] out there for my first couple of games, they were really physical,” Kempe noted. “I had to keep my head up, every shift. It was different against all the other teams. Utica was a more skilled team than Portland. That was a little bit different, but I learned from that first series against Portland.”
Despite the intimidation tactics, Kempe pushed right back.
“They gave him extra shots, they pushed him after whistles, and they got in his face,” Stothers observed. “He held his ground. He pushed back. I think he proved to them—and the goals he scored, he scored by going to the net. He was not a perimeter player at all. He was not the least bit intimidated.”
“He comes over and nobody really knows anything about him, so they’re going to test him,” Stothers added. “Certainly in the playoffs, it’s a pretty physical situation. It’s a war.”
“He’s got a powerful stride, he’s a great skater, he’s got a great release in stride [on his shot], and he’s a big guy. He played hard, he played physical. They tried to intimidate him, but he didn’t take any backward steps. He’s got a big frame. He’s a big, strong guy for his age, and his skating—he’s fun to watch. Every day, I get to watch him in practice. He’s fun to watch. He can get up and down.”
Looking ahead, Stothers talked about what Kempe needs to improve upon in the fast approaching 2015-16 season.
“[He needs to improve] his play away from the puck, which is not unusual for a young guy,” Stothers noted. “We want to have the puck. If we don’t, we want to get it back as quickly as possible. His coverage in his own zone [also needs work], but it’s all just the typical things for a young guy.”
“It’s experience,” Stothers added. “He just needs to play in all situations, and he’s indicated to me that he’s capable of doing so.”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Kempe will join Stothers with the Ontario Reign of the AHL, as the Kings have moved their primary minor league affiliate to Ontario, California, starting this season.
As indicated earlier, Stothers seems to be very excited about having Kempe in his lineup for a full season this year.
“After seeing him join us late in the season, and in the playoffs, I wished I had him [all] last year,” he noted. “He’s a fun kid, and you know what? He wants to play and he wants to get better. He wants to be an NHL player.”
Frozen Royalty’s Adrian Kempe Coverage
- Adrian Kempe Is Getting A Long, Hard Look At Center During LA Kings Training Camp
- LA Kings LW Prospect Adrian Kempe “Has Some Juice To His Game”
- Ontario Reign Coach Mike Stothers on LA Kings LW Prospect Adrian Kempe: “He’ss Ahead of the Curve”
- LA Kings 2014 1st Round Draft Pick Adrian Kempe Returns To Sweden, But Not Before Making Solid First Impression
- 2014 First Round Draft Pick Adrian Kempe Fits LA Kings Like A Glove
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