By Bill Sands
It may not be the Mike Green trade we had discussed earlier, but the Caps made a move this weekend to shore up their back-end. The team dealt a third-round pick for defenseman Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Who is this guy? Let’s take a look and see what he brings to the table.
Career to Date: As a youth, Kempny played exclusively in Eastern Europe. He made his debut with HK 36 Skalica in the Slovak Extraliga, and then moved back to his native Czech Republic to play for HC Kometa Brno in the more competitive Czech Extraliga.
Kempny spent seven years there before making the jump to the Kontinental Hockey League, widely regarded as the world’s second-best professional league. He made an immediate impact with Avangard Omsk, scoring 21 points in 59 games from the blue line in the 2015-16 season.
Kempny introduced himself on the North American stage during the 2016 IIHF World Championships. After a strong showing, he signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. Kempny had another impressive tournament during the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and made his NHL debut on October 12, 2016.
He was re-signed to a one-year extension by Chicago and has 15 points in 81 NHL games over two seasons.
Style of Play: Kempny is an offensive-minded defenseman with a heavy shot. He is of average size (six feet tall), meaning his strengths lie in moving the puck, not clearing the crease.
Kempny is a smooth skater and possess the ability to get the puck out of danger using either his legs or a well-placed breakout pass.
He never caught on in Chicago, but it’s unclear if that was due to his skill or the inability of coach Joel Quenneville to trust him (reaction from Chicago fans seems to suggest that it was the latter).
How He Helps the Caps: Don’t let Kempny’s lack of NHL experience fool you; he’s been playing professional hockey for 10 years and is a solid veteran presence. Though he may not be a huge upgrade over Christian Djoos, he can shoulder some of those minutes, meaning Barry Trotz and his coaching staff won’t have to be entirely reliant on rookies during the postseason.
As mentioned, he has a booming shot that can find the back of the net or create rebounds, which makes him a solid fit for the 2nd power-play unit.
He’s not a shutdown defenseman, so the Caps will still need to count on Brooks Orpik to play big minutes. He probably shouldn’t be used to shut down opponents’ top lines and should ideally be used as a fifth or sixth defenseman.
Kempny isn’t the solution to all of the Caps’ problems, but he’s a solid addition who can play important minutes and take the load off the team’s younger defensemen. If (more likely, when) injuries occur in the playoffs, having someone like Kempny means the Caps won’t need to turn to Taylor Chorney or a call-up from the Hershey Bears.
He also comes at a far cheaper price than Mike Green (a third-round draft pick was all it took to get him) so if this rental doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world.