EL SEGUNDO, CA — Last season, Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Adrian Kempe had an up-and-down start with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, both offensively and defensively. But as season wore on, he gradually improved, earning himself a late-season call-up to the Kings.
“I think I started off not as good as I wanted to,” he said. “I played well, but I didn’t produce. I didn’t score the goals that I wanted to. I was getting chances, but I was unlucky, in the beginning. After the first 15-20 games, I started to play better. I put up some points and had good run through Christmas.”
Although he didn’t come in and light the National Hockey League on fire, by any means, the 21-year-old, 6-2, 195-pound native of Kramfors, Sweden was essentially in a 25-game training and development stint with the Kings at the end of last season.
“I got called up here and did pretty well, but it’s more difficult up here,” he noted. “I adjusted, and the last couple of games, I think I played really well. That’s something I’ll bring with me for this season.”
One sign that the Kings were mostly interested in his development while he was with the big club was that he saw time on the penalty-kill, something he did not do regularly with the Reign because of his defensive deficiencies.
“I got some time on the penalty-kill, which I thought was important for me to get better in the defensive zone,” he said. “Penalty-killing is hard, so you have to be good. They taught me a lot, and I got better at it. My defensive play is better now than it was last year, and I’m pretty proud of that.”
Kempe has indeed worked on his defensive play since he was selected by the Kings in the first round (29th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft. But he indicated that he learned more than ever before during that 25-game stint with the Kings.
“I learned so much,” he said. “When your guy has the puck, you’ve got to finish your check against him. You have to be on the [correct] side of the puck, and not give up opportunities. If I’m playing center, I have to stay with [the opposing center] on face-offs, and when I’m down low with the puck, I’m good with the puck, so I just have to make get it back as soon as possible.”
“I can’t think that I have to go on offense all the time,” he added. “I have to think defense more.”
That’s exactly what the Kings are looking for.
“We got him up here last year, and we liked some of the things he could do,” said Kings head coach John Stevens. “We certainly like the skill set and speed he brought to the lineup. We think he can be a responsible player, and he has the ability to play wing and center. We’d like to see his defensive game continue to improve. It’s not that he can’t do it. We just want to see it on a more consistent level.”
“I still think he can do a better job of staying on the right side of the puck,” added Stevens. “I think he gets a little loopy in his game, at times, but the center position is fairly new to him. He’s done a good job of trying to gain the concept of what’s expected of him there, but there’s still some work to do.”
In the Kings first exhibition game of the 2017-18 season against the Vancouver Canucks on September 16 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Kempe was penalized four times—two slashing minors, one hooking minor, and one high-sticking minor.
To no one’s surprise, even with the new emphasis by NHL officials on slashing, those penalties raised eyebrows among the Kings coaching staff.
“We went back and looked at those penalties to get a handle on what’s being called,” Stevens noted. “The thing we liked is that he’s been in a lot of puck battles that’s led to some of those penalties, but we’ve got to clean some of his game up.”
“We like a lot of the stuff he does with the puck, in terms of carrying speed through the middle of the ice,” Stevens added. “He can really attack with speed, and check with his speed, so there’s are things in his game that we like.”
For his part, Kempe knows that he has to be better, especially in terms of consistency.
“I expect myself to be a better player, and make more of an impact in every game,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is to be more consistent in every game. I have to do that every day.”
“Last year, my ups and downs were pretty big at the beginning,” he added. “Now, I know what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to do the work every day, even if I feel a little more tired than usual. Some days, you’re not going to be as good as other days, but you can always put in the work.”
“We weren’t sure if he could play in the league last year,” said Stevens. “Now we’re sure that he can. We just have to see him become a consistent performer in the league.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net,
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