This edition of the Los Angeles Kings will never be confused with the most dynamic offensive team. They lack the firepower upfront of the best teams in the league. They overcame this last season and made the playoffs, albeit they averaged the second-fewest goals per game of any team to participate in the postseason. The Kings came to rely on Adrian Kempe to pot some goals, and he netted 35 last year in a breakout season. He’s currently going through a slump, and we need to figure out why that is the case.
Kempe’s Career Year
Kempe was the penultimate pick in the first round of the 2014 Draft. Since he made his debut in 2017, he looked like he was going to slot in as a nice middle-six winger for the Kings. His highest goal total in a season before last year was 16, but he did produce at a 20-goal pace in the shortened 2021 season. He got the bump up to the top line last season, and that’s when he began to produce.
You can definitely see a difference in Kempe’s analytical profile starting last year. His shot-attempt rate increased by over five shots per 60 minutes, compared to his average over the previous three seasons. He also got way more high-danger chances than ever before. Yes, his shooting percentage was a career-high, but it wasn’t outrageous than his career average, and shouldn’t be considered a random outlier given the fact that he got higher quality scoring chances.
This uptick in goals wasn’t driven by power play success either. Kempe had just two more goals on the man advantage in 2021-22 than he did in the 2020-21 season, despite playing 26 more games. Playing with Anze Kopitar on the first line can certainly explain some of the boosts in goals and chances. However, he is playing with Kopitar again this season, and it hasn’t helped him score goals despite being with a great playmaking center.
Kempe’s seven goals are tied for third on the team. Seven goals in 24 games are close to a 23-goal pace, which would be slightly disappointing. When you look at it over a smaller, more recent sample, things start to look a bit more concerning. He has just one goal in November, on the 14th against the Calgary Flames. He hasn’t exactly been racking up the assists either, with just four helpers in the month, and that’s never really been his strength in the NHL.
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There is an interesting trend this month for Kempe that might help explain this a bit. The one thing you could point to is the quality of shots Kempe has been taking. He is second on the team in shot attempts per 60 minutes in November, but his individual high-danger chance rate is the worst among forwards on the Kings. He’s tied for last in individual expected goals per 60 in the month, meaning he is taking shots that don’t have much chance of going. Even if he is taking these low-percentage shots, his 2.7% should normalize a bit closer to his career 11.3% average just based on puck luck.
There is obviously a simple solution to this, which is for Kempe to be more selective with his shooting. Taking shots from further out has not been working. It’s hurting his team’s overall offense, as the Kings have averaged just 2.69 goals per game in November, with a mediocre 6-4-3 record for the month so far.
Kings’ Options Moving Forward
The Kings have switched up their lines a bit throughout the season, partially out of necessity due to injuries. One thing that has remained constant has been Kempe playing on the top line with Kopitar. They could definitely consider moving him around a bit in the lineup. One option would be to move Arthur Kaliyev to Kempe’s spot as the first-line right wing. Kaliyev’s rate stats are fantastic this season, as he leads the team in points per 60 minutes (with a minimum of five games played). He has a great shot, and also, has been a positive play driver in his brief NHL career.
Another move to consider would be swapping Kempe with Trevor Moore on the second line. Todd McClellan doesn’t like to change anything with the second line, as they have gelled nicely since last season. However, Kempe could theoretically bring even more of a goal threat to the line, while Moore could bring a bit of energy and help dig out the puck to get to Kopitar and Kevin Fiala.
A bad month happens for a lot of players, anyone who isn’t one of the best in the league experiences them. The Kings don’t need to panic over Kempe’s slump just yet, but if it continues, moving him down the lineup is certainly worth exploring. Kempe signed a four-year contract worth 22 million dollars last summer. L.A. needs to find a way to get production out of a player with a 5.5 million dollar cap hit, as only two forwards have a higher cap number than him.
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Nick Vazquez covers the LA Kings for The Hockey Writers. He has been a hockey fan for his entire life, and playing the game since age 6. He loves watching and analyzing the game in different ways, and exploring the great stories from different players, teams and fans.