Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe is entering his fifth season in the league, and should be entering his prime. He is a divisive player amongst fans, who seem to either love or hate him. Kings insider John Hoven recently did a Twitter Q&A, where he answered a question on the hate Kempe receives.
This question, and a recent article I did analyzing the team’s top six, made me want to take a deep dive into Kempe. I wanted to look at the expectations he came in with, and how they’ve affected fans’ perception of him. I also wanted to dissect his stats, focusing on his micro stats to get an idea of his strengths and weaknesses.
Expectations on Kempe
I think a big reason the expectations on Kempe were set so high was because the Kings had so few good prospects at the time. Looking at the drafts before and after him paints the picture well. In the four years before he was drafted the first-round picks were; Derek Forbort in 2010, no first-round pick in 2011, Tanner Pearson in 2012, and no first-round pick in 2013. The team also did not have a first-round pick in the two years following Kempe’s selection. He was one of three first-round picks in seven years, and fans were desperate to have a top-end prospect they could look forward to. This led fans to place huge expectations on him, which he has not met up to this point.
I also wanted to look at what the Kings thought they were getting when they drafted Kempe. He was drafted as a two-way, physical center, who had goal-scoring upside. Coming out of Sweden, the expectation was for him to turn into a power-forward who played a North-South brand of hockey. His forechecking was something that came up a lot in his scouting as well, he was meant to be someone who was always the first man in on the forecheck, looking to punish defensemen. It was clear early on that his future was at wing in the NHL but, especially in his first season, I think we saw flashes of the goal-scoring power forward he was drafted as. So, fans’ expectations of him were to be, a top-six power forward who can score, and plays very physically. Let’s look at what he actually is and isn’t.
Kempe’s biggest issue is inconsistency. He is a very streaky player who goes through stretches where everything he touches turns to gold, followed by stretches where he can’t buy a point. Unfortunately, the stretches of gold aren’t frequent enough, leading to subpar production. He’s also consistently decreased his physicality each season, his most physical season was in his first full season, 2017-18. He still uses his big frame well to win puck battles down low and to drive the net, but he has not been the bull in a China shop, he was touted as in his draft year. Personally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his best season, 2017-18, was also his most physical season.
His goal scoring has also not improved in the way many people were hoping. His shot is hard for sure, but he struggles to finish his chances. His career shooting percentage (SH%) is just 9.9%, fairly average, and far below what was expected of him. His forechecking hasn’t been nearly as effective as the team was hoping, either. His numbers aren’t bad, but like his shooting, they are very average. When looking at recovered dump-ins and forecheck pressures per 60, he sits very near the league average, with around 2.5 recoveries and 9.17 pressures throughout his career. He’s also not the most creative passer, with just 2.051 chance assists per 60 last season, below the league average of 2.484. So, he’s very average in his shooting, forechecking, and passing, while not being an overly physical player.
His weakness point to him being a league-average player, who belongs on the third, or even fourth line. But the things Kempe does well, he does extremely well. These are mainly, creating a high number of shots, getting pucks into the offensive zone, and creating chances off the rush. Last season, he averaged 10.30 shots per 60,and 8.36 shot assists per 60, both are above the league average, meaning he gets a lot of shots on net himself, and he sets players up to get shots on net at a high rate. He’s also good at generating scoring chances for himself, with his 4.56 chances per 60 being above the league average of 3.88, this is where his 9.9% SH% lets him down.
Probably Kempe’s best attribute is his incredible puck carrying ability, both 5-on-5 and on the power play. He led the team in zone entries per 60 last season with 24.15, way above the league average of 18.40, and carried the puck into the zone 55% of the time also well above the league average. Not only does he get the puck into the zone at a high quantity, but he also does it with quality. His 13.21 controlled entries per 60 are over four more than the league average. On the powerplay he is even more impressive, as the team’s main point of entry last season, he successfully carried the puck into the zone 71% of the time and got the offense set up 50% of the time, both are way above the league average. So, when Kempe is on the ice, the Kings are entering the zone with possession at an extremely high rate.
The last thing he excels in is creating offense off the rush. He creates 4.8 chances off his zone entries per 60, which is over two more than the league average. He also generates 10.02 shots per 60 off the rush, again, over 2 more than the league average. Essentially, he gets the puck into the zone with control, creates shots off the rush better than anyone on the Kings, and is well above league average in this department.
Kempe’s Contribution to the Kings
What does this say about his contribution to the team? Offensively, he is a rush specialist who creates above-average shot volume and carries the puck into the zone at a rate similar to some of the league’s best players. But he struggles to turn that high volume of shots created into production, mainly because of his poor shooting percentage and his inability to set up teammates for dangerous chances. He is a very average forechecker who would benefit from adding the physicality we saw early in his career back into his game. He is someone who can transport the puck from defense to offense better than anyone on the team, but he needs other players to apply the finishing touch after he gains the zone.
This season’s started well for Kempe, as his ability to carry the puck has aided his line in becoming the best possession line in the league through the first month. But, with just four points in nine games, it’s possibly another season of disappointing production for him. At 25-years-old, I’d be surprised if he developed his goal-scoring much further, but it’s certainly possible. Regardless, he is an effective player who does a few things very well while missing the killer instinct to produce points regularly.
I’ve been happy to see him increase his physicality this season as well, as I think embracing the role he was drafted as, a physical power forward, is the best way for him to keep his spot in the Kings lineup. I think his lack of production eventually moves him down into the bottom six, once the team’s prospects develop more, but it’s easy to see why he is currently in the top six. I think unfair expectations were set upon him, and he isn’t given enough credit for his contribution to the team as a result.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.