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.”