From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2015-16 Bruins. Today's player: Joonas Kemppainen
A name like Joonas Kemppainen certainly sounds like an NHL player, and the Big Finn looks like one in person with a solid, strong 6-foot-2, 213-pound frame that’s ready for battle at the professional level. The 27-year-old was signed to a one-year contract for short money ($700,000 cap hit) as the first move following the hiring of Don Sweeney as general manager, and is a low-risk, potentially high-reward roll of the dice for the Bruins. If things work out the way Boston has planned, Kemppainen will help the Bruins at some point this season.
What Happened Last Year: Kemppainen tallied 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 59 games for Oulun Kärpät of SM-liiga (Finnish Elite League) last season, including 24 impressive points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 19 playoff games. His postseason performance and the nine points in eight games at the World Championships this spring caught Boston’s attention, and pushed the Bruins into bringing the workmanlike center over from Finland for the first time in his career.
Questions to be Answered This Season: Kemppainen pretty much has to answer every single question at this point. He’ll need to prove he can handle the North American game after spending his entire career in Finland, and will need to do it while trying to prove himself on a one-year contract. The Bruins were hoping to get a look at the Finnish center during this summer’s development camp, but he was held out for the entire week after straining a leg muscle while training in Europe. The Finnish pivot will also have to beat out some stiff competition for a bottom-six center spot at the NHL level, with Ryan Spooner and Chris Kelly earmarked for the third- and fourth-line center positions at this point. He brings a more ideal size/strength combination to the table than either Spooner or Kelly can provide, but he’s far behind them in terms of relevant experience.
In Their Words: “He’s a big, heavy guy. It would obviously be nice to see him on the ice too, but he’s got a little bit of an injury. But he’s a big, heavy guy that’s strong on the puck, good on face-offs and is a very smart hockey player. He’s probably a little bit [more] on the defensive side of the game . . . That’s his strength. But he can chip in some goals too. Size-wise and defensively he is [comparable to Soderberg], but I don’t know if he’s offensively as good as Soderberg was. But time will tell, I guess. But I really like him as a player.” –Bruins European scout P.J. Axelsson on Kemppainen.
Overall Outlook: There’s been plenty of talk that Kemppainen is the replacement for Carl Soderberg, and that’s probably a natural choice on some level because he’s European and also a big-bodied center. But the Big Finn also isn’t the kind of offensive player that Soderberg developed into with the Bruins, and it might be easy to forget that it truly took the Swedish center some time to adjust to the North American style of play. Training camp could be a difficult orientation period for Kemppainen and it might take him some development time at the AHL level. But one would expect that we’ll see the Finnish center in Boston at some point this season, and this his face-off abilities and defensive acumen could be big assets for the Black and Gold. He’ll be a bottom six center at best for the Bruins, but that’s also all they’re expecting from him.