As 2024 begins, Adrian Kempe is heating up, with signs pointing to a strong surge ahead for #9

A lot of chatter around the 2023 portion of Adrian Kempe’s season. And most of it’s been on the positive side.

Kempe is on pace to shatter his NHL career highs in points and his nightly impact on games has been at the highest level of his professional career, coming consistently and on a just about every game basis.

“He has an impact on the game, [even] when he’s not scoring, it’s as simple as that,” Todd McLellan said of Kempe. “He sits on the bench, he goes out, he plays a shift and he’s determined. He makes mistakes, we try and help them with him, he goes back out he tries to fix them, you appreciate players like that.”

The one area, to date, that hasn’t matched the overall game is the area that’s taken the largest leap over the last two seasons – goals scored.

Kempe buried 35 and 41 goals respectively over the last two seasons and the chatter coming in was no longer around could he do it again, but about how much higher he could go. As of January 1, he sits at 12, on pace for 30 over the course of 82 games. Now, he’s at a point-per-game, so it’s 30 goals and 82 points, which is a really strong year. Still though, if you ask Kempe, he’s in search of more. He wants to get the goals to match the points, because he knows what he’s capable of in that department.

“I would still like to see myself score more, obviously got one [on Saturday], so that was nice for the confidence,” Kempe said. “Hopefully I can get on a little bit of a roll here.”

What’s interesting when you dive a bit deeper into Kempe’s numbers is that there are a lot of things that stand out.

Starting at 5-on-5, Kempe’s last three seasons in many areas look almost identical.

For starters, he’s scoring at nearly the same rate as he did a season ago. Kempe has 1.14 goals per/60 this season, compared to 1.20 last season and 0.99 the season before. He’s averaging about a minute less of ice time per game at 5-on-5, which does add up, but it’s not drastic.

Some of the underlying numbers are quite similar as well. His shots on goal per/60 are nearly the same as the last two seasons, ticking slightly up here this season, while his shooting percentage is also right in line with the last two years, slightly above 2021-22 and slightly below 2022-23. His high-danger chances are the same way, but reversed, coming in above last season but below the 2021-22 campaign. As of today, he’s collecting a point on 68 percent of the goals scored that he’s on the ice for, the exact same percentage as he did one season ago.

These numbers are not perfect, but at a surface level, they tell you that Kempe hasn’t drastically changed anything in this game at 5-on-5. He’s generating chances at nearly the same rate as he has over the last two seasons and he’s scoring goals at almost the same clip in those situations.

Last time out against the Oilers, we saw vintage Kempe in action, scoring a 5-on-5 goal we’ve seen from him so many times over the last couple of seasons. Kempe, flying down the right wing, gets himself into a good area on the ice in the offensive zone. His shot does the rest of the work.

“He’s had, if you go back and you think about his goals from last year, there was a lot of times he’s coming down that off wing and he has that shot,” McLellan said. “This year, in fact in Vegas [on Thursday], he missed probably about five inches wide with that shot as well, so he’s just got to dial things in a little bit, but he’s getting those attempts, he’s getting those opportunities. We all know that he’s a streaky scorer and he’s been scoring lately so that’s a good sign for us.”

So, if Kempe’s raw 5-on-5 metrics look so similar to last season, then why is a 41-goal scorer currently on pace for 30 goals?

Well, in part, the last part of McLellan’s answer gives some information. Kempe is a streaky scorer and for not being on a heater right now, he’s actually done a solid job of maintaining serve.

A season ago, 27 of Kempe’s 41 goals came in the 2023 portion of the schedule. 14 goals from 40 games played in 2022, a 29-goal pace. 27 goals from 42 games after the break. Eerily similar start, isn’t it? Only difference is, last season he had 10 assists from those 40 games, while now he’s got 21 from 33.

While his individual 5-on-5 metrics, large in part, have not changed, the piece of Kempe’s game that has changed at 5-on-5 is the scoring prowess of his linemates. Quinton Byfield scored one goal at 5-on-5 last season and he’s already got seven so far this season. While a lot of Anze Kopitar’s damage has come outside of 5-on-5 scenarios, he’s scored his fair share as well and his high-danger looks are around the highest level of his distinguished career.

“I’m playing with really good players,” Kempe said. “Kopi has been hot this year, Q’s been scoring a lot, and it’s nice for me to see that too. It takes some of the pressure off my shoulders too.”

The other element that has yet to click, and this is a team-wide issue, are the goals that come beyond 5-on-5 play.

Of Kempe’s 27 second-half goals last season, eight came on the power play and three came while shorthanded. The Kings were one of the NHL’s best stories on the man advantage a season ago, rising into the NHL’s Top-5 in power-play percentage. Kempe was a big part of that success, as he netted a career-high 2.76 goals per/60 on the man advantage. That number is down below one here this year, as the Kings have slipped into the middle of the pack in power-play percentage.

The power play has been an area of much discussion here this season, as the Kings have had stretches of prowess and stretches of struggle. Looking specifically at Kempe, he’s collecting more assists on the power play than he ever has in his NHL career, so that’s a good sign of growth. He’s also shooting at just four percent in power-play situations, which is unsustainably low, leading to a career high in rebounds produced.

It feels unlikely that one of the NHL’s best goalscorers will shoot at four percent on the power play all season long. Of all the metrics we’ve looked at, that feels the most likely to change as we head into the new year.

Now, it ultimately comes down to these metrics actually translating on the ice. And that doesn’t always happen. Just because we saw a flaming-hot second half last season doesn’t mean we’ll see the same this year, but it’s still extremely encouraging to see that many of the underlying metrics point towards Kempe playing not only as well as he did last season, but perhaps better in a lot of areas.

As 2023 becomes 2024, McLellan put it simply the other night, when asked about Kempe’s goalscoring.

“It’s coming.”

Most signs would point towards that likely becoming the case.

Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kempe and the Kings are back in action here this morning, with practice just getting underway in El Segundo. The Kings will host Toronto and Detroit over the next few days, before getting back on the road this weekend, with the longest trip of the season on the horizon.

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