Heading back to first rounders, it's becoming clearer and clearer that this year's draft class is very murky at the top. Someone who rates a player in their top 15 may actually end up outside of the first round. Someone closer to a mid-second round draft grade may rise or fall quite a bit. This allows some hope for a team like the New Jersey Devils, who will pick at 30th no matter what, to have plenty of options. This must mean they should consider the possibility of someone who . Someone like MODO winger Adrian Kempe.
Who is Adrian Kempe?
Kempe is one of the youngest players in this year's draft. He was born on September 13, 1996. A few days later and he'd be one of the oldest eligible prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft. According to his profile at Elite Prospects, Kempe stands at 6'2" and 187 pounds, hailing from Kramfors, Sweden. He originally was coming up through Djurgården before transferring to MODO's junior team in 2012-13. Since then, Kempe has been grown to be too good to ignore. The coaches of the first team for MODO felt he was ready for a limited role and played 45 games in this past season. On top of that, he made 20 appearances for their junior (U-20) team while representing Sweden at the World U-18 Championships. Essentially, Kempe was very busy last season. Here are his numbers at Elite Prospects:
I've become impressed with the statistics section at the Swedish Hockey League official website. They actually provide all kinds of information such as shots on goal splits, missed shots defined as missed nets and blocked shots, ice time splits, and more. Plus, there's an easy way to translate it all to English. Long live the SHL stats page! Anyway, one can filter out all the other U-20 players. This makes it easy to find out that Kempe's 11 points actually ranked seventh (tied with two others) among such players. All of the points were at even strength; half of his assists were primary assists; he took 38 shots while not finding the net on 34 other attempts; and the majority of his 8:27 average ice time was at even strength. He played a limited role on the senior team, which is to be expected for a 17-year old. The fact he stuck around so long is impressive on his own.
With respect to his World U-18 tournament, his seven points placed him third on the team behind Leon and William Nylander. He took 28 shots to go with his seven points; a bit unfortunate in the shooting department. He also managed to take 16 PIM, which isn't good to see at all in a tourney setting. Not only Sweden's top two scorers but the top two scorers of the entire tournament. As an aside, expect Nylander to go really high this year. That's not in doubt.
What Others Have Said About Kempe
There's plenty out there about Kempe as he was considered to be one of the top European-based skaters for this draft all season long. For example, Central Scouting Services ranked him sixth after a midterm rank of third. Let's begin with the little blurb in his profile at Elite Prospects that was written before this recent season.
Kempe is a strong, bullish forward that has size, strength and a work ethic to match. He can be tenacious on the forecheck and never misses finishing a check. He has a heavy shot and isn't shy to drive towards the net. (August 2013)
Kempe certainly has the size to be strong and if he wasn't such a worker, then I doubt he would have cracked MODO's roster. You'll find that plenty written about Kempe notes this about the player. For example, his profile at NHL.com has this quote from Goran Stubb, the Director of European Scouting at Central Scouting Services:
"He's a big, strong, bullish forward who can play center or wing. 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; 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."
That's right, Stubb used the word "strong" three times and noted his strength separately. Indeed, Kempe carries power. However, it's additional reasoning that he's more than just that. That he's able to be fast and go to the net are pluses. I am not as convinced he's a center since he only took 61 faceoffs, but that could be a function of his limited role on the senior team. Maybe he was on the junior team? I don't know.
Over at Defending Big D, Hue Wales took note of what Kempe was doing during the 2013-14 season. In this November post, this is what he had to say about the MODO winger:
Adrian Kempe is a big center who plays with a physical edge. He's got a big frame to fill out, 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, and would have the size needed for the North American game.
He's only played 10 games so far in the SuperElit for MODO J20 and had a point per game. He's been called up to their adult team in the SHL and has four points in 16 games. A brief look at some of their games shows that he is spending most of his time on the third and fourth lines.
He's an interesting one and apparently more physical than the average Swedish forward. It's still too early to predict when he will be drafted, but he could go anywhere between the first and third rounds. His draft position might be influenced by his ability to handle the adults of the SHL.
As it turned out, he's likely to be picked in the first round - possibly well ahead of the Devils at 30th overall. It's that mix of Kempe being relatively big and strong along with being skilled enough to play in Sweden's top pro league before turning 18. It's the sort of player that pretty much all teams would want. So concludes Mitch Kasprick, former WHL scout, in this profile he wrote at Winnipeg Hockey Talk. He has a bit to say about his offense, defense, and skating. Here's what he has for his offense:
Adrian Kempe is a Swedish forward that plays more like your prototypical North American power forward. He is a very strong forechecker and excels in the corners and in front of the opposition’s net. He uses his size to separate from defenders and to drive hard to the net. He possesses a better than average shot with a quick release and handles the puck extremely well, especially in tight areas.
This is certainly very encouraging to read. It's one thing to be willing to go to the boards, it's another to be able to maintain control while in deep. It can make a big difference between someone who's just a "banger" and someone who can contribute on the attack.
While that's the opinion of someone who did some scouting, here's the opinion of someone who has been local to the Swedish scene. Jacob Nystrom ranked the top 1996-born players in Sweden after the World U-18 Championships at Hockey Svierge. From the Google translator, here's what Nystrom wrote about Kempe, who was third on his list:
Full season with the first team in the trunk with sometimes impressive game. Cruel skating and have a "mean streak" in his game and not afraid to step into physical situations. Good attitude and there is room to improve the shot and technology which had given him one more level.
OK, the Google translation leaves it rough. The trunk would mean his fourth line role. I'm not sure what cruel skating is. Or what technology has to be improved. But it's generally positive and that he has to work on his shot is interesting. Does it mean to shoot more? He did average less than a shot on net per game with MODO, after all. Or is it the shot itself?
For more details, one may have to consult one of the many scouting guides that are either out or coming out real soon. Fortunately, McKeen's Hockey has a short post on Kempe that fills in that gap of details. In this report on Kempe, there are some indications as to how he may not be a sure-shot for the top end of this year's draft. Here's a few that stuck out to me:
...powerful and explosive skater – generates dynamic speed crossing over with a galloping bow-legged style that is not the most economical in terms of efficiency and style .. very aggressive shooter and likes to challenge defenders one-on-one and force feed his shot .. stick-handling abilities are adequate but he needs work on his play-making skills .. did a much better job this season addressing his defensive play .. still incorporates wide, looping circles – especially in the neutral zone – but comes back deep to support his defence and uses his reach better .. would benefit from playing the body more intuitively in the defensive zone .. played well against his own age group as he captured a gold medal at the World U17 Challenge in 2013 and was a point-a-game player most recently at the 2014 World U18 Championships (7-1-6-7) .. Kempe has a good physical disposition but concerns about his true finishing touch will lower his status as a pro.
The bolded emphasis is mine. Most of it can be improved in my view. I'm not sure what "play-making skills" would indicate; possibly passing? How he skates and gets physical on defense certainly can be drilled and taught. It's that last bit that is a sticking point. I don't know if "finishing" is something that can be worked on. It seems that either you have it or you don't. I also don't know how much of that is driven by his really low shooting percentage at the World U-18s, how a little under 53% of his shooting attempts got on net, or something else.
Allow me to give the last word of this section to Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports. He ranked Kempe 21st on his list of prospects for this year's draft. In his profile, he confirms a lot of the mostly positive things said about Kempe. After noting his awkward, yet effective, skating stride, this is what Kerr had to say about the Swedish winger's play going forward:
He is first in on the forecheck, and just loves to punish defenders in the corners. Given his age, and a need to fill out his frame, he is still remarkably effective in winning board battles. He protects the puck very well on the cycle and is a menace down low. His wrist shot is very hard and heavy. It also features a good release. Adrian Kempe also has decent vision and passing skills which he uses out of the cycle. His stickhandling is okay, but he certainly plays a North-South game, and takes the direct route to things, instead of trying to use too many moves to try and get by a defender.
I don't think being direct is necessarily a bad thing. Especially if his approach to the game is to go forward, hit, and attack. Kerr wasn't critical of his passing, but that it was just "decent" seems to fall in line with the notion of his "play-making skills" needing work. Kerr ultimately compares Kempe's style of play to Brandon Dubinsky, also a hard-working, hard-to-play-against forward with some skill. That would be a fine player to get - provided he's available.
A Little Video
There isn't much video out there on Adrian Kempe. However, here's a highlight video made by Hockey Prospect Videos from January for Kempe's 2013-14 season. It's better than nothing at least:
An Opinion of Sorts
Quite frankly, I'll be shocked if Kempe is available at the end of the first round. He's got the physical attributes and skill one would want in many forward prospects. While he was stuck at the bottom end of MODO's roster, it remains remarkably impressive that Kempe played the majority of last season with the men in the SHL instead of his age group. When he did play against his peers, he excelled. Again, Kempe isn't even 18 yet so he has a little more time to develop towards his potential.
The only real negatives I was able to figure out from others is that he may not be much of a finisher and he has work to do to keep developing as a player. I'm not put off by his stride since it doesn't hamper his ability to move. That he does perform in his own end of the rink seems fine and he'll learn the nuances in terms of how to move and when to make decisions with time and experience. I'm not sure if finishing can be worked on. I do think it would be fair to expect him to get more shots on net provided he gets more ice time in the SHL next season, presuming he stays. While he may not end up as a top-end forward, I would have to agree with the overall consensus he's the sort of forward that almost all teams would love to have in their system and ultimately be a part of their top nine. If he doesn't "make it" with his other skills, then he could be a banger - and that's not really that bad of a bottom-side, really.
Therefore, I would be absolutely thrilled if the Devils - who lack forwards in general, but particularly this kind of forward in the pipeline - were able to draft Kempe. I just don't think he'll fall to #30.
Now it's your turn. What do you think Kempe as a prospect? What do you like the most about him? What do you like the least about him? Do you think there's any chance he'll be available for the Devils at 30th overall? If so, do you want the Devils to get him? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Adrian Kempe in the comments. Thank you for reading.