Adrian Kempe’s NHL debut Thursday was a blur.
Not so much for Kempe, but for everyone else.
“There were players on the ice that couldn’t keep up with him,” marveled Kings Coach Darryl Sutter.
“He’s got wheels,” agreed captain Anze Kopitar said. “He can skate, definitely.”
Sutter is convinced Kempe can do a lot more than that, which is why he called Kempe up from the minors in the middle of a playoff race. But to make the most of Kempe’s speed and skill, Sutter says he’ll occasionally have to put the brakes on the rookie.
“Not too many 20-year-olds just jump right in there and away you go, right?” the coach asked. “We’ll manage him properly, try to put him in situations to succeed.”
Sutter is doing that partly by putting him on a line with Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli, a pairing he repeated Saturday against the Florida Panthers. That nearly paid off with a first-period goal in Kempe’s debut after he stole the puck from Arizona’s Michael Stone at center ice and sped off on a breakaway.
He may have rushed his shot, though, missing wide at the right post.
“I was a little bit nervous but I think I got into it pretty quick,” Kempe said. “I know that I can skate with these guys. But the first couple of shifts I was just feeling how the game is.
“I’m playing with pretty good players so it’s pretty easy to play.”
Kempe began his professional career as a teenager in his native Sweden, then signed with the Kings in the spring of 2015. In his second full season in North America he had 11 goals and 19 points in 43 games for Ontario of the AHL before being recalled Wednesday.
So far, Kempe has shown just flashes of the brilliance the Kings predicted for him when they made him a first-round draft pick, the 29th player selected overall. To fulfill that promise, the rookie said he knows he’ll need to show Sutter more than just speed.
“You’ve got to finish your checks. And that’s what they want me to do,” said Kempe who, at6 feet 2 and 202 pounds is the Kings’ second-biggest winger. “I’m pretty big and I’m a good skater. When I get up my speed I’m pretty heavy, too. So I have to finish my checks.”
Kempe spent part of Friday reviewing video from his first NHL game, looking for mistakes. But he said he expected the biggest difference between his debut and his second game to be a few less butterflies. Before Thursday’s game he said he spent part of the day trying to convince himself his call-up wasn’t a dream.
“Sometimes you see some of the players you’re playing with and they’ve been your idols since you were a little kid. That’s huge,” he said. “But I’m just trying to focus on the game when I’m out there. The second game is going to be more relaxed than the first.”
Sutter, meanwhile, is trying to maintain some patience and perspective — which isn’t easy since the Kings entered Saturday one point out of a playoff position with 26 games left in the season.
“He’s got a lot to learn,” Sutter said of Kempe. “The biggest thing with Adrian, the coaches really liked him in training camp. That’s what you’re going to use. You don’t use reports. So that’s in our bank with us.
“[You] just take steps with him, show him stuff, work with him.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11