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Key Caps questions: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

Key Caps questions: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will Michal Kempny continue to play like a top-four defenseman?

Michal Kempny proved to be an absolute steal at the trade deadline for the Caps who acquired him for just a third-round pick. Washington had an obvious need for a top-four defenseman and they took a chance on a little-known blue liner from the Chicago Blackhawks who struggled to stay in the lineup.

It worked.

Kempny quickly found chemistry with John Carlson and his addition bolstered the team's top-four on defense, turning it from a weakness to a strength in the playoffs.

But can he do it again?

Kempny has only two seasons of NHL experience. The most he’s played in a single season is 59 games which he did in 2015-16 while playing in the KHL. As well as he played in the playoffs, it is a bit of a gamble to simply rely on him to take a full-time top-four role going forward given the NHL sample size is still small.

But there is no reason to expect any drop-off in Kempny’s play.

Kempny thrived with the opportunity to take on a bigger role. Here’s a breakdown of his 2017-18 season:

  • October to Feb. 19 with the Chicago Blackhawks: 31 out of 59 games played, 15:19 of ice time per game, seven points (1 goal, 6 assists)
  • Feb. 19 through the regular season with the Caps: 22 out of 24 games played, 16:45 of ice time per game, three points (2 goals, 1 assist)
  • Playoffs: 24 out of 24 games played, 17:42 of ice time per game, five points (2 goals, 3 assists).

Kempny went from a healthy scratch to a top-four defenseman once Todd Reirden got his hands on him, and, in case you haven’t heard, Reirden isn’t going anywhere. With a full season to work on him, there’s good reason to be excited about what Kempny can do going forward. He knows it, too.

Despite getting interest from other teams prior to becoming a free agent, he chose instead to re-sign with Washington for four years with a $2.5 million cap hit. That’s a bargain price for a top-four defenseman, but after struggling to start his NHL career, Kempny decided not to mess with a good thing.

Kempny proved to be a dependable top-four defenseman for the Caps throughout the playoffs under the tutelage of Reirden. With Reirden now head coach, there’s no reason to think Kempny will not continue to thrive in Washington.

Other key Caps questions:

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Newest Caps defenseman Radko Gudas happy for a fresh start in D.C.

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USA Today Sports Images

Newest Caps defenseman Radko Gudas happy for a fresh start in D.C.

Radko Gudas was surprised, but also relieved. A different year in Philadelphia, where everything seemed to go wrong for the Flyers, is behind him now. He plays for the Capitals now. 

 

“I was a little bit shocked to be honest,” Gudas said in a conference call on Tuesday. “But when I heard where I'm going, I was pretty happy that I got traded to a team that's well known for their winning and their will to win every game they play.”

 

It capped a whirlwind few days for the 29-year-old, a polarizing figure in the sport along the lines of Washington forward Tom Wilson. Gudas has been suspended four times by the NHL Department of Player Safety. To say he plays the game on the edge is an understatement.

 

“Staying on right line of suspensions: It's always tough lately in the hockey these last few years,” Gudas said. “I worked on it in the summer and I thought I adjusted the game enough to still be able to play physical, just not be a liability out there for my team. It's always something hard to adjust, but we still have to do it. It's our job.”

 

In the midst of a rough year for Philadelphia that saw a coach firing and a late playoff surge fall short, Gudas took advantage of increased ice time – and cut his penalty minutes to 63 from a high of 116 when he joined the Flyers four years earlier. He will never be a big offensive threat, but he’s figured out how to suppress shots and play a reliable defensive game.

 

At a friend’s wedding in the Czech Republic on Friday when he got the news, Gudas received messages from his new teammates and wasn’t even sure who, exactly, of the Capitals coaches he spoke with. There was a lot going on. But he’s excited to play “for a well oiled machine” like Washington, which has its 2018 Stanley Cup and has won the Metropolitan Division four years in a row. 

 

Gudas knows fellow Washington defenseman Michal Kempny, 29, well. The two men were born just three months apart in 1990 and were teammates on the World Juniors under-18 Czech Republic team in 2008. They reconnected in 2017 for the Czech Republics’ entry in the IIHF World Championships. Jakub Vrana, 23, is a third Czech on one of the NHL’s most diverse rosters and played with Gudas at the 2019 World Championships. Kempny was still recovering from a torn hamstring sustained during the regular season. 

 

That familiarity is nice, but Gudas has been traded before when Tampa Bay sent him to Philadelphia in 2015. You just adjust to the role given with your new team. He’s ready for a fresh start with the Capitals. 

 

“They’re the winners from last year, they were the contenders this year,” Gudas said. “They always have a good team. They in the playoffs every year all these years. Play my simple game, the guys to know what to expect for me and know I’ll be there for them.”

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Capitals Talk hosts "Capitals On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Capitals Talk hosts "Capitals On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

With the NHL Draft just a few days away in Vancouver and after countless mock drafts, NBC Sports Washington will have you covered as the Capitals decide who to take with the 25th overall pick.

As part of NBC Sports Washington's coverage of the NHL Draft, the Capitals Talk Podcast will host 'Capitals On the Clock: Draft Night' on linear television and as a live stream on the NBC Sports MyTeams app.

Capitals Talk will sit down with Rob Carlin, Grant Paulsen, Al Koken, Michael Jenkins, J.J. Regan and Brian McNally to discuss the Capitals the 2019 Draft. They'll be joined by Zack Fisch, Manager of Media Relations & Broadcasting with the Hershey Bears, who will shed light on who's ready to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL.

The live stream will also include an NHL and Capitals Draft trivia segment which fans will be able to play along with.

And if you haven't already downloaded the MyTeams App, you can do so right now, RIGHT HERE.

Capitals Talk Podcast "Capitals on the Clock" Special

When: 8 p.m. Friday June 21

Where: NBC Sports Washington and NBC Sports MyTeams App

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