Michal Kempny ready to chase NHL dream with Blackhawks

Michal Kempny ready to chase NHL dream with Blackhawks

Michal Kempny didn’t want to discuss what the Blackhawks have said his role will be this coming season, but he knows where he wants to be.

“I’m here to prove that I’m here to play in the NHL, because it was my dream for so long,” Kempny said through translator Igor Alfimov. “So I’m here to work myself to the A team.”

Kempny, a Czech defenseman who enters this season with much fanfare, participated in his first day of Blackhawks prospect camp on Tuesday. For Kempny, there will be plenty of adjustments. The 25-year-old speaks little English and will be adjusting to the North American game. Still, Kempny could be another Artemi Panarin, making the on-ice transition fast and helping the Blackhawks right away.

“I think Chicago likes defensemen who skate a lot and who are very creative, and I think that’s my style,” Alfimov said for Kempny. “I’m very glad I can contribute to that style.”

The Blackhawks are hoping that’s the case. The team bolstered its defense on July 1 when they welcomed back Brian Campbell on a one-year deal. The Blackhawks missed having that fourth veteran defenseman last season after Johnny Oduya signed with the Dallas Stars, and it showed. But the Blackhawks will still be looking for others to step up or break through, and that includes Kempny.

General manager Stan Bowman was complimentary of Kempny but knows everything is new to him and there might be an adjustment period. Having fellow Czech Michal Rozsival in the room should also help Kempny, who said he’s currently working with tutors to improve his English.

Now to see how quickly he adjusts on the ice. Kempny spent last season in the KHL, where he had five goals and 16 assists and was a plus-18 in 59 games with Avangard Omsk. Kempny has done well overseas but wanted to take the next step. Where better to do that than in the NHL and with the Blackhawks, who were one of several suitors vying for Kempny.

“There were some offers, but I was aware that I was followed by the Blackhawks for a while,” he said. “I kind of decided that if the offer would come I would definitely agree.”

Kempny is ready to see what he can do on this side of the pond. It will be an adjustment, for sure. But he’s with a team that has a strong top-four veteran defenseman presence once again so there won’t be a ton of pressure on him right away. But if he can make an impact immediately, all the better.

“I’m basically start thinking about hockey differently, working on myself a lot,” he said. “There’s a goal that you need to set for yourself, and you need to follow them. And without the hard work, there is no reward.”

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona


Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns


Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!