The 2021 season was a critical year for LA Kings forward Adrian Kempe, and he’s finishing the year on a high note.
Don’t look now, but Adrian Kempe has five points in his last five games. “Inconsistent” has been the buzzword surrounding the LA Kings forward through his first five NHL seasons, but there has been a glimmer of hope that Kempe has found “it” in the latter half of the 2021 schedule.
Kempe, who will turn 25 in September, was drafted with the 29th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He brought with him a body of work of size, speed, and the ability to put up a lot of points In junior hockey and with the Ontario Reign of the AHL.
The Kramfors, Sweden, native, made his NHL debut on February 16, 2017, scoring his first goal on March 11. Since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of streaky hot stretches following by ice-cold stretches where Kempe disappears from the boxscore entirely.
Needless to say, with all the talent in the LA Kings’ prospect pool, the 2021 season was a critical campaign for Kempe. Added, he needed to prove it in a 56-game schedule.
The year began on a promising note, with the 24-year-old winger tallying three goals in his first five games, including the game-winner over the preseason Stanley Cup-favorite Colorado Avalanche. He followed that up with career patterns of scoreless streaks, picking up a stray goal here, a stray assist there, before tallying six goals in three games, including a hat trick against the Ducks.
Give credit to Kempe, though. He has done everything asked of him this season, playing up and down on all four lines for the Kings, providing a spark along the fourth line, to providing support for Gabe Vilardi when the centerman needed a confidence boost.
Adrian Kempe could be a valuable complement to the LA Kings captain.
On Monday, head coach Todd McLellan moved Kempe up to the top line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown in an effort to create more scoring chances. Alex Iafallo, who has long been LW1 since signing as an undrafted free agent, was going through a cold spell and searching for answers.
And while it wasn’t a slight to Iafallo, swapping Kempe for Iafallo was something McLellan wanted to take a look at in this year of evaluation.
“Kempe does carry the puck,” the LA Kings head coach noted on Monday. “Iafallo forechecks a little differently. They bring different ingredients to that line.”
As Anze Kopitar closes in on 1,000 career points, the Kings have been determined to take some of the pressure of the LA Kings captain, whose line has accounted for 107, including Iafallo, of the 353 team’s points.
Prior to his game-winning goal on Monday, Iafallo’s last point came on April 12, an assist. His last goal came on April 10 and, while he didn’t have the same drought as Iafallo, Dustin Brown tailed off, accumulating just one goal and three assists in his last seven games. All the pressure to generate scoring chances fell sorely on the shoulders of Kopitar.
“Kempe certainly last [game] was skating. He transported the puck well. You can see a lot of the work and the planning that goes into it. Even on the powerplay because Kempe is such a good skater, a lot of times he’s the transporter of the puck, and Kopi doesn’t have to do as much skating,” McLellan said of Kempe’s impact on Kopitar.
As for Kempe, he’s third among LA Kings forwards with 29 points, entering Wednesday’s finale with the Coyotes. Pro-rated over a normal 82-game schedule, Kempe is on pace to set career-highs in both goals and assists.
As noted, he has one goal and five points in his last five games. On Monday night, he led a rush up-ice, feeding Kopitar a seeing-eye pass through two Coyotes defenders, with the latter burying the puck past Coyotes netminder Darcy Kuemper.
“Adrian played one of his better games of the season,” McLellan said following the Kings 3-2 win on Monday. “I thought he was aggressive all over the rink. [He] set the tone on the forecheck. He was as good defensively as he was offensively.”
Kempe is under contract through the 2021-2022 season before he’s set to become a restricted free agent. Consistency is still the theme for the Swedish forward, but he’s doing his part in the Kings’ final games of the 2021 season.