LA Kings: Adrian Kempe must take leap forward next year

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

As a highly-touted draft pick, Adrian Kempe must take a monumental step forward next year for the LA Kings. Having Gabe Vilardi as his center should help.

Drafted 29th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, Adrian Kempe had high hopes of being the next great center for the LA Kings. In his draft year, Kempe tallied five goals with six assists for MODO Hockey of the Swedish Hockey League. The following year, he scored five goals with 12 assists for 17 points in 50 games.

Kempe came over to the AHL for the Kings’ minor league affiliate, Ontario, for the 2015-2016 campaign. There he primarily played left wing for the Reign, tallying 11 goals with 17 assists in a 55-game sample size. Entering the 2016 training camp, Adrian Kempe was given a long look at center for the Kings.

"“I’m playing center right now, so it’s tough,” he added, via FrozenRoyalty. “I played left wing almost all last year, so it’s been tough to play in the middle. But I’ve felt more and more comfortable after each game. I got better and better in the defensive zone, and better in terms of puck possession, too.”"

He played the majority of that year with Ontario but came up to play center on the third line in the final quarter of the year. Over the last two seasons, Kempe has spent the majority of his time at the center, but after about 15 games this year and Blake Lizotte‘s emergence, Kempe was moved back to the wing.

The major knock on Kempe playing center was that he couldn’t win faceoffs. With a career 41.0 percent faceoff win, the 23-year-old was destined to move to the wing at some point in his NHL career. In the 2018-2019 campaign, Kempe scored 12 goals with 16 assists for 28 points in 81 games with a 51.6 CorsiFor percentage.

Since transitioning to back to the wing, he tallied 11 goals with 21 assists for 32 points in 12 fewer games and saw his CorsiFor percentage increase to 55.9. But while his immediate stats look like an improvement, the analytics behind them tell a different story.

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*Source JFreshHockey

From the chart above, Kempe’s even-strength offense has consistently fallen short of expectations with a three-year weighted -1.2 EVO, highlighted by a -3.0 EVO this past season per Evolving Hockey. Furthermore, he accounted for a -0.2 WAR. Much of that could be attributed to the trading away of major assets from the Stanley Cup teams and dropoff in talent along each line.

But as you can see, his market value based on his level of play is well below the $2M AAV the Kings are paying him. Needless to say, the 2020-2021 campaign is an important year for Kempe’s development.

Gabe Vilardi could have a major impact on Kempe’s production

Speaking of next year, Kempe is expected to play at left wing on the second line alongside Gabriel Vilardi and Martin Frk, and while Vilardi’s sample size in the NHL was limited to only 10 games last year, he logged a 53.3 percent faceoff win percentage.

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Arguably the Kings’ best prospect, Vilardi is going to get a long look like this year to prove that he can be a mainstay on the roster, and hopefully, push LA closer towards making a postseason run in the near future. Vilardi has been lauded for his abilities to make seeing-eye passes. The thought is that those passes are going to his wingers, which should put Kempe in favorable positions in the upcoming season.

And again, we are dealing with very small sample sizes here, but the duo of Kempe and Vilardi account for a 57.3 CorsiFor percentage, placing them into an elite category. Let’s monitor how that relationship performs in the upcoming year.