EL SEGUNDO, CA — Although his National Hockey League debut came and went without fanfare, Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Adrian Kempe provided glimpses of what he might bring to the Kings some day, despite their 5-3 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on February 16 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The 20-year-old, 6-2, 202-pound native of Kramfors, Sweden did not record a point and earned a -1 plus/minus rating in 15:19 of ice time against the Coyotes.
“It was tough, but I think I played all right,” said Kempe, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (29th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft. “I was a little bit nervous [early], but I think I got into it pretty quick. I just tried to play my game.”
“The first period—I was a little bit nervous,” added Kempe. “I just tried to go out there and play hard. After a couple of shifts, I got into it. Over 60 minutes, I played a pretty good game, but it’s always tough when you lose.”
Speed is Kempe’s most formidable weapon and it showed in his NHL debut.
“He’s got wheels,” said Anze Kopitar, who centered a line with Tyler Toffoli on right wing and Kempe on the left. “He showed it out there. Being that it was his first game, he’ll feel more comfortable in the next few games. But he can skate, definitely. He can make plays. He’ll be fine.”
“It’s a real fast game, but that fits me pretty [well],” Kempe noted. “The first couple of shifts, I was feeling it. But after that, I got into it pretty fast. I like the speed and I tried to use my speed, too.”
Possessing such great speed, Kempe doesn’t have to worry about being able to skate with NHL-caliber players.
“He was good on that line last night,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “There’s players on the ice who couldn’t keep up with him.”
“I know that I can skate with these guys,” said Kempe. “The first couple of shifts, I was [trying to get a feel] for how the game is and I played with pretty good players, so it was pretty easy to play.”
But as the saying goes, speed isn’t everything.
“We all know he can skate,” Sutter noted. “He showed that. There’s going to have to be a bit more purpose or dig in his game in order to succeed at this level.”
“He’s a skilled, talented kid,” Sutter added. “He’s a got a great skill set. He’s 20. There aren’t too many 20-year-olds who jump right in and away they go. We’ll manage him properly and try to put him in situations where he can succeed.”
“He’s got lots to learn. He’s 20. He’s going to be fine. It’s no different than when we brought Tyler and Tanner [Pearson]. You play them with good players and you see how they handle it.”
Playing with Kopitar and Toffoli, Kempe is both in a situation in which he can succeed and they can see how he’s handling things.
“Kopitar makes it easier because he’s such an amazing player,” Kempe noted. “You just try to skate and keep your stick on the ice. He made a lot of room for me tonight. He’s a great player. It’s easy to play with him and Toffoli.”
“All the players here can dish the puck, but [Kopitar is] such an amazing player,” Kempe added. “He made it a lot easier for me. I just tried to play my game. They both found me a couple of times. It was a great feeling to play with those guys in my first game.”
“I’m just going to try to do my [job] and make the game easier for them, too, with my skating, trying to be good on the forecheck and create room for them. I’m just trying to play my game and make it easier for them.”
Kempe played a physical game, getting in on the forecheck, helping his line mates get ahold of the puck or hold onto it, making things easier for them.
“You’ve got to finish your checks and that’s what they want me to do,” he noted. “I’m pretty big and a good skater and when I get up to speed, I’m pretty heavy, too.”
One of the knocks on Kempe has been his defensive zone play, which remains a work-in-progress. But even though he had a couple of first period defensive mistakes that led to high-quality scoring chances, he put in a respectable defensive game against the Coyotes.
“I think I was pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t think we spent a lot of time in the defensive zone. We made some good plays and we got out pretty quickly from the defensive zone.”
“I think I had a pretty good game in the defensive zone,” he added. “That’s what they told me. They liked my game, overall. We watched video this morning and there was nothing specific in the defensive zone.”
During the video session, the coaching staff did emphasize some things that he still needs to work on.
“Skating with the puck, loose puck battles, puck protection—you’re not going to be 100 percent in your first game in the NHL and obviously, there were things that they wanted me to do better—some loose puck battles that I didn’t win,” he said. “That’s what we were looking at. The second game will be more relaxed than the first, but in your first couple of games [in the NHL], you’re going to be nervous.”
Indeed, it was only the first NHL game for a player who is just 20 years old.
“The coaches really liked Kempe in training camp,” Sutter noted. “That’s what you use. You don’t use reports. You use live [observations] more than that. We’ll take steps, show him stuff, work with him.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Adrian Kempe. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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