Michal Kempny felt the frustration anyone would with multiple healthy scratches.
The 26-year-old is here to play. But with eight defensemen through most of this season, the shuffle on the back end meant someone had to be out. For nine of 10 recent games, that was Kempny. But in his latest opportunity Kempny has been strong, and the combination of defense and offense he’s contributing has got him playing regularly again.
“It wasn’t easy. But you do have to think positive, stay positive,” Kempny said through interpreter Igor Alfimov. “Every practice for me was like a game, I was trying to work out on the ice and in the gym waiting for the game to come.”
Kempny was a healthy scratch for four consecutive games before returning against the New York Islanders on Dec. 15. But he had a forgettable first few minutes, and was out the next five games.
When he got back in against Carolina on Dec. 30, however, Kempny didn’t disappoint. He had goals in two consecutive games — the one vs. the Hurricanes was the first of his NHL career — and has been steady.
“I think he’s always had some good offensive instincts to his game. He’s up in the play, he has speed, he shoots the puck. Getting the finished product can certainly help your confidence,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Defensively he’s played well since he’s been back in the lineup and I think his gap has been effective, his stick positioning and 1-on-1 play. To me that’s the area where, if he gets that improved it really compliments his whole game. He’s coming off a couple of strong games for us and he adds some speed on the back end as well.”
Despite being out for the better part of a month, Kempny was sharp when he got back in the lineup. Kempny said it wasn’t easy to come back after a long layoff but, as he said, using every practice as prep helped. Trevor van Riemsdyk said Kempny’s work ethic has always been there, be it practice or games.
“He’s a great player and when he’s out there doing his thing he’s fun to watch,” van Riemsdyk said. “He’s physical and he can do all the right things. He moves out there really well so it’s nice to see him playing well these last few games. He’s been working hard, whether he was in the lineup or not, so it was only a matter of time.”
Kempny is also improving in his English, thanks to television and movies. He still relies on an interpreter to translate his answers to the media but the defenseman no longer needs much help understanding questions posed to him. On-ice communication, which was always pretty good, is also improving
“There wasn’t a big problem on the ice. The commands and hints are pretty much the same, so I didn’t really feel it was that big of an issue,” Kempny said. “I’m glad I feel more confident in English now and I understand more and more, so I hope it’s just going to go up.”
Kempny’s playing time, or at least his number of games, should be going up as well. The Blackhawks assigned Gustav Forsling to the Rockford IceHogs on Friday, leaving the team with seven defensemen. That will make game-to-game decisions easier — it was nice to have eight defensemen but it led to a lot of tough decisions and long layoffs for some players. Kempny was frustrated while he sat but having the right attitude paid off. So did having a strong game when he returned.