The names he shared was a list of those who one might expect. Drew Doughty. Anze Kopitar. Jeff Carter. Tanner Pearson. Tyler Toffoli.
Several of those players do have impressive individual speed, and there are few players across the Western Conference as equipped to shoot the puck off the rush as Carter. Another player with gifted individual speed is Adrian Kempe, and like several other players on the list above, is now learning to read plays quickly, make decisions quickly and operate with poise amidst the hockey fog of war. Through eight games the 20-year-old has two assists and a minus-three rating but has been centrally involved in several scoring chances that could have boosted his point total.
“I think I’m starting to get more confidence out there,” Kempe said. “The first couple games you just are like feeling the game, and I just try to go out there and play hard and play my game. Now, after a couple games, I’ve gotten a little feeling of how the game is and everything, and I get a little bit more confidence with the puck and everything. I’ve started to improve a lot of things that I think I’ve had to improve before, too. I think the last couple games have been pretty good for me, and hopefully we will get better, too.”
Kempe has played in every game except for one since his recall – he did not dress for the overtime loss in Calgary – and Los Angeles is 3-4-1 in games he has participated in. There could be an interesting tweak in tonight’s game against Vancouver as the team’s youngest player could see time at center, as opposed to left wing, where he has spent the majority of the time at both the AHL and NHL levels this season. He skated alongside Andy Andreoff, who is also capable of playing center, and Kyle Clifford at the morning skate.
“Obviously it’s a lot more physical down low in the D-zone,” he said of playing center having moved up a level. “If you’re playing center, you’ve got to play hard, and it’s a big responsibility in your own zone. That’s got to be the thing I’ve got to do tonight – I’ve just got to keep playing my game and use my speed as much as possible in the middle.”
Kempe won’t try to be anything he’s not, and while the competitiveness and ferocity inherent in the play at the NHL level may take an adjustment for younger players in their first exposure, Kempe is still an elite skater who will get by with his speed and his smarts. Ultimately that should transfer into his ability to play with pace and make quick reads.
“He’s handled the speed well,” Darryl Sutter said. “I think the strength and size is something that comes from within, not necessarily what you look at.”
While Sutter had said after the rookie’s first game that there would have to be “a little bit more … purpose or dig in his game in order to succeed at this level,” that’s a common call for many young players. It’s not as if he’s being asked to become the next Steve Ott.
“No, I don’t think we ask guys to go outside of what their skill sets are,” Sutter said. “I think he’s a fast player and he understands the game. There’s a big difference between ‘physical’ and ‘compete,’ and that’s one thing that’s not negotiable, is compete. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5’10 or 6’2. He’s not a big, strong guy, he’s a fast player, so he’s got to get in the areas where he goes against somebody who’s 20 pounds bigger. That’s the difference.”
Adrian Kempe, on whether he notices game-by-game progress:
Yeah, kind of. Like not in the beginning, because you get more into it after every game and you feel more comfortable after every game, too, so I think that’s important to get the games in. I get more comfortable with the puck with each game, so I’m just going to keep playing my game.
Kempe, on acclimating to physical play and competitiveness when joining the AHL in 2015:
It was kind of the same feeling when I came to Manch two years ago. I was young, and it took a couple games before I got into it, but I think in the beginning, the first couple games, I was just feeling the game a little bit, and after that I think I had a pretty good playoffs. Hopefully I can do the same here and just start playing really well for the team, and hopefully I can use my speed and be an important player for the team.