Time and timing combined to assist Kings prospect Adrian Kempe quite nicely.
Time? The versatile Swedish forward arrived in training camp boosted by another year of professional experience last season at the minor league level on his resume. In fact, Kempe left his teen days behind not so long ago, turning 20 on Sept. 13.
Timing? Opportunities up front are there for the taking with the injury-riddled Kings. Winger Marian Gaborik (injured right foot) is out for several more weeks and center Nick Shore remains sidelined because of an undisclosed injury and left wing Tanner Pearson will sit out the first two regular-season games because of a suspension.
Kempe didn’t fully anticipate being in the mix for a roster spot when he arrived in camp.
“Not really,” he said. “I came over, like I really wanted to take a spot. That’s been my goal, like last year too, just keep it my goal to make it. I made a good camp and I think I played good in the games too. I’m still up.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen after this weekend. We’ll see what happens.”
Among the top players not in the lineup for the Kings-Dallas Stars game on Friday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas were centers Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, goalie Jonathan Quick and defenseman Drew Doughty. This was the first NHL game in the sparkling $375-million facility, the future home of the Las Vegas NHL franchise.
In the Kings’ 6-3 loss to the Stars, Kempe started off by centering Dustin Brown and Devin Setoguchi. It is an important final few days for players on the edge, particularly Setoguchi, who is in camp on a professional tryout.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter is often stingy with compliments — especially about rookies — so his comments about Kempe were noteworthy.
“In some ways, he’s flown under the radar here,” Sutter said after Friday’s morning skate. “Others have been given credit, or assumptions, but he’s clearly outplayed them.”
Kempe played 55 games with the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate in Ontario (Calif.) last season, recording 11 goals and 28 points. His progress in the last year has been noticeable.
“He’s just a year older, just straight maturity,” Sutter said. “… With the hockey IQ he has and the speed that he has, the only adjustment is experience. He’s adjusted to the ice and you can see that. He’s a fun player to watch.”
Among the players not in Las Vegas is defenseman Rob Scuderi, who could be nearing the end of his playing tenure with the Kings. Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi declined comment on Scuderi’s future.
“Scuds has had a tough camp,” Sutter said. “He’s only been in one game and, in another game, he was slotted in and he wasn’t healthy to go. Dean sat down with him yesterday or the day before and went over it.”
Scuderi, 37, was a big part of the Kings’ first Stanley Cup championship team, in 2012. He left the Kings, returning to Pittsburgh in 2013 and came back to Los Angeles last season, in February.
“We weren’t going to be able to get him in either one of these games,” Sutter said. “It’s been a tough camp for him.… On the record, I have way too much respect for Scuds, for what he’s done, to even get into it [the future]. I said at the start of camp I wanted all the guys to do well and wanted to give them every opportunity and when he got banged up, we haven’t been able to do that.”