Sweden is a hockey country that produces first-round draft prospects every year, with the 2014 draft class being no exception. Led by top-three prospect William Nylander Altelius, the son of former NHL forward Michael Nylander, there are more talented young guns coming out of Sweden and into the big league next year. Another of those rising Swedish stars is Adrian Kempe, who is currently considered first-round material and had a great showing at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
Born in September of 1996 in the little town of Kramfors in northern Sweden, Kempe has been around hockey for most of his life and has been a member of successful youth teams during his young career. His older brother, Mario, now a forward for MODO, a famous Swedish Elite League team, was already eight years old when Adrian was born. And since their father Mikael is a hockey coach, it can be said that the Kempes are a hockey family.
While Mario, a former QMJHL player drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the fifth round of the 2007 NHL Draft, left for MODO early in career, Adrian stayed home until 2011 when he was somewhat reunited with his brother in the Djurgården organization that is based in the Swedish capital of Stockholm. While Mario played for the first team, Adrian stayed in juniors, where he developed into a point-per-game forward in the U18 Elite League.
That was at the age of 15. A year later, which is exactly a year ago, Djurgården's first team was relegated to the Swedish Allsvenskan and Adrian's brother Mario wanted to stay up in the Elitserien. So he rejoined Örnsköldsvik's MODO, an organization known for bringing up stars like Peter Forsberg, Mats Näslund, Samuel Påhlsson, and the Sedin twins. The MODO organization knows what they're doing when it comes to developing hockey talent, and the fact that Adrian followed his big brother to this franchise should only help his career.
And it actually already has, as Adrian was given a stable place with the Under-20 team playing in the well-known SuperElit, one of the top junior leagues in the world. Also, the big center became a star with the Under-17 national team where he recorded 37 points in 22 games. That kind of stat lifted him up to play some games with the Under-18 national team, too, and he returned this summer for the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
Back in the SuperElit, Kempe had a modest role with the team being led by players like Gustav Possler, Robert Hägg and Erik Nyström, who have all been drafted into the NHL already. Despite that, he collected 13 points in 39 regular-season games. Now, he's expected to be given a bigger role in his second SuperElit season. Many of the leaders from the previous season are leaving or are no longer eligible to play in the league due to their age so Kempe should be the one given a chance on the first or second line.
At the Ivan Hlinka, Kempe proved he's got the potential to become an all-round forward in the NHL. Often, Swedish players stand out on offense or in technical play, but Kempe has it all and an equal share of it. He plays physical, is responsible defensively, has the skills to make things happen and is an offensive threat to his opponents.
Kempe had three points in four games at the Ivan Hlinka, but the usually strong Swedish team surprisingly struggled and had to play for seventh place with Slovakia in the end. That game concluded in an 11-0 victory for Sweden, but only after losses to Switzerland in a shootout and by three goals to the Czech Republic.
Even though Kempe is usually ranked between 15th and 30th for the upcoming 2014 NHL Draft, some teams might eventually consider taking him a little higher. In my opinion, Kempe's performance at the Ivan Hlinka was a little better than that of team captain Anton Karlsson, who is ranked among the top 10 prospects for 2014. Much will depend on the next season, where Kempe will finally get a chance to show what he's capable of in the SuperElit and likely at the 2014 Under-18 WJC.
Kempe is a playmaking forward with both physical and technical weapons that he uses on both offense and defense. Not only is he a great passer and puckhandler, but his shot is also fairly lethal and a nightmare for most goaltenders. Kempe is in a good position most of the time and is effective during a penalty kill. On the other side, he should work on his skating and discipline as he is prone to taking too many unnecessary penalties.
Hockey's Future interviewed Adrian Kempe after a team practice at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament:
Hockey's Future: Adrian, what's the feeling of playing at a tournament like this?
Adrian Kempe: It's a great experience, I've had fun playing here. It was great to play against teams like that of Canada and against others, too.
HF: Your older brother Mario already is an experienced player in the Swedish Elite League. How much does that help you?
AK: He's helped me a lot during my career. We live in the same city and I play among juniors while he plays for the first team. He's helped me especially with training and food, but with other things, as well.
HF: As you have already mentioned, you play for an organization with an SEL team. Do you think they are going to give you a chance among the pros in the upcoming season?
AK: I don't know yet, but hopefully they will. I will have to play well in the junior league and then they might give me a shot.
HF: How would you describe your playing style?
AK: I like to have speed on my skates and control the puck a lot.
HF: What's your number-one weakness, something that you need to work on the most before the draft?
AK: I think I need to improve my defense, I need to play better in my own zone.
HF: You're eligible for the upcoming 2014 NHL Draft. What are your feelings about it?
AK: Right now, I'm not thinking about it so much. It's almost a year away from us so there's a lot of time remaining. Hopefully I go as high as possible, but we'll see.
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