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Photo Credit: yalebulldogs.com

Phil Kemp: “I kind of have a sneaky offensive game.”

Phil Kemp’s partner on the US National U-18 team in 2016/2017 was Quinn Hughes. Hughes got all the press, and rightfully so, due to his outstanding skills and skating ability. Hughes is 5’10 and 170 pounds, while the right-shooting Kemp is 6’3′ and 205 pounds. Hughes was the flash, while Kemp was the defensive conscience. Kemp was drafted in the seventh round in 2017 by the Edmonton Oilers, while Hughes, due to a late birthday, waited until 2018 and the Vancouver Canucks selected him seventh overall.

After being teammates Hughes spent two seasons at the University of Michigan before joining the Canucks last year. Kemp spent the past three seasons at Yale, and was there this year until their season was cancelled due to COVID. They are very different players, with different paths and expectations, but it won’t be a huge surprise if Kemp, like his former partner, finds himself in the NHL in the future.

When Yale cancelled its season, Kemp turned his attention to the Oilers. And earlier this week he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Oilers.

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Kemp spoke to Jason Strudwick and me on Wednesday about his decision to sign, rather than test free agency in 2021, his style of play, the Oilers right-defence depth chart and more.

Kemp’s confident, well-spoken demeanour impressed us.

Jason Gregor: How have you improved since being drafted in 2017?

Phil Kemp: The last couple of years have been great for me and my development. The coaches at Yale have been unbelievable. I’ve improved my skating and matured as a player. It was heartbreaking to have our season taken away from us but to sign with the Oilers, I’m super excited and my family is super excited. So, I’m just pretty jacked up.

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Jason Strudwick: Phil, what were you taking in school?

Kemp: I’m a history major (laughs).

Strudwick: Any specific area of history we should know about?

Kemp: I’m actually super interested in Indigenous histories; the southwest, Spanish forelands kind of time period. I kind of dove head deep into it and loved it. I’m writing my thesis on it.

Gregor: You’re still in school, correct?

Kemp: Still in school, but it’s all remote though. So you take your laptop wherever. So I‘m going to try to finish out, get my degree and see where it takes me. I’m very excited to turn pro and get started.

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Gregor: So let’s assume hockey starts in January. Then you’re going to start playing and will you be like Colton Parayko playing hockey and finishing your degree?

Kemp: Yeah, I think so. I’m hoping to get some extensions on my papers and exams, but I’m excited to do the best that I can to finish my degree and play hockey.

Gregor: I’ll be bluntly honest, I haven’t seen many of your games, so I asked a pro scout for an evaluation.  Here was his scouting report: Kemp is an aggressive D-man who makes smart simple plays, closes quickly, and his skating has improved since his draft year. He is a captain and a leader.’

What would you say to that?

Kemp: Ah, I mean it is spot on. I’m not the prettiest player, and I know that. Bu I try to get the job done and I think that some of the best D are quiet, they’re responsible and they are reliable. And that’s how I try to play.

Gregor: What do you do best that will translate to being a pro player?

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Kemp: I’m just reliable and I try to keep it simple. As a defenceman, if you aren’t noticeable, and you just move the puck up ice and get it into the forward’s hands, that can be a good game. I just try to do whatever I can to help the team win. So whatever role that is, I’ll just try to do my best.

Strudwick: You know what Phil, it sounds like you are really comfortable in who you are and you know what you want to be. So when you kind of look to the next step of pro hockey is there something that you want to add to keep making yourself more appealing to the Oilers?

Kemp: Yeah for sure. I mean I think I kind of have a sneaky offensive game. A lot of people probably don’t give me credit for it. I think I can obviously improve it, but I believe I might impress some people with my offensive abilities.

Gregor: Interesting. What is it about your offensive game that is sneaky?

Kemp: A lot of the offensive chances that are generated often happen in the bottom third of the defensive zone, and if you can get clean clears, clean breakouts, clean retrievals, get the puck into the forward’s hands, that creates offensive opportunities that wouldn’t have been generated otherwise.

Strudwick: Phil is there a certain style of partner that you like to have?

Kemp: I’ll say whoever, but obviously when I was playing at the U18 program, playing with Quinn Hughes on my left, that was just, it was tough to beat.

Gregor: We’ve seen some drafted NCAA players test free agency, rather than sign with the team who drafted them. Why was signing with Edmonton the right move for you?

Kemp: I was very thankful that they drafted me and I wanted to show my loyalty to them. But, also I don’t see who wouldn’t want to play for Edmonton. They have a great fan base, one of the coolest logos in sports, and it seems like they are so close to winning. I would love to be a part of it.

Gregor: I look at the Oilers depth chart on the right side and there are definitely openings for a young defenceman coming up in the next couple of years. How much did the depth chart factor into your decision?

Kemp: Definitely it did. I know that there is some deep talent on the back end in Edmonton, especially with [Philip] Broberg, [Evan] Bouchard and [Dmitri] Samorukov. I mean these guys are great players. But I think that there is a lot of chaos and chaos kind of creates opportunity. I’m just hoping to plug in and play my role and hope that that helps the team to win.

Strudwick: It seems to me that for a player like yourself you’re just going to drift into the NHL one day. There might not be a lot of buildup, but all of a sudden you will be on the team and guys will be like, ‘Oh this is great!’

You seem very confident in who you are, not cocky, but confident. You need that. You understand where you are at your best. Knowing that makes it easy to move forward in understanding that this is who I will be. Because for some guys coming into the NHL, it isn’t always that clear.

Kemp: Yeah, for sure. I mean I think that a lot of guys, it’s tough for them when they want to play bigger than their game. Obviously, I want to play bigger than my game too, but I know my game. And it’s simple. It’s kind of black and white, it’s meat and mashed potatoes and that’s good with me. So, that’s kind of how it is.

Gregor: How was hockey growing up in Connecticut? Were you a young puck guy right away or did you play multiple sports?

Kemp: My parents kind of threw me into everything. I had an older brother and two sisters and we were lucky with a lot of my buddies too, we played every sport possible. So it was kind of soccer, football, baseball and lacrosse. I never really got into basketball, other than in the driveway, but I think that (playing multiple sports) was big for me in just that I have a group of buddies who were ruthless competitors, and we just kind of hated to lose to each other and that kind of just pushed us all forward.

Gregor: Was there a sport that you felt that you were as good as or close to as hockey?

Kemp: Um, I mean I always loved playing football because on game days you would just get so jacked up with your buddies, and I loved playing lacrosse too. But every sport is just fun. It is fun competing.

WRAP UP…

Kemp hasn’t been on many fans’ radar. Very few seventh round picks are, but it’s also likely due to many prospect rankings never having him ranked very high. Admittedly, I’m not a big proponent of prospect rankings, as it is impossible for any analyst to know every NHL’s teams best-20 prospects. It is great for page views, but remember that prior to last season, one ranking had Ethan Bear slotted 13th among Oilers prospects. Often after the draft new draft picks are slotted in higher on a prospect chart, and guys like Kemp, while developing quietly in the NCAA, are overlooked.

Will Kemp play in the NHL? Hard to say. But if you look at the Oilers right-defence depth chart, he will have a chance in the future. Bear and Evan Bouchard are the two best young right-shot defenders. Adam Larsson and Tyson Barrie are both pending UFAs, and the only other right shot prospect is Michael Kesselring. He’s in his second NCAA season, and is someone I know the Oilers like.

Kemp could slot in behind Bear and Bouchard as a steady, penalty killing third pairing defender in the future. Similar to a Matt Benning type. The scout I spoke with said Kemp’s projection is as a third pair D-man. If he becomes that, the Oilers will be thrilled after selecting him in the seventh round.

His skating has improved the past three seasons, but now he needs to take the big jump to pro hockey. He will start in the American League, and we’ll see where he goes from there, but he’s a name to look for. He isn’t flashy, but winning teams don’t just have flash and dash. They also need reliable, quiet and steady defenders.

And that is exactly what Kemp is.

THE NATIONGEAR BLACK FRIDAY SALE!

For this year’s Blackout Collection, we’re introducing some new designs while also bringing back some old favourites as well. As for the new items, we launched a new hoodie, t-shirt, and toque that we’ve never done before and as you’ll soon see, these babies are sharp. In addition to the new designs, we’ve also relaunched the black-on-black logo hoodie as well as the classic Nation Hat (both flat brim and dad style) with the same esthetic from a few years ago. These two items were huge sellers back in 2016 and after hearing your feedback about wanting us to bring them back, that’s exactly what we did. But be warned, these items are all limited edition and once they’re gone they’re gone, so I’d recommend squashing your internal desire to procrastinate to make sure you get all of your Christmas shopping done before everything sells out. Check out all of the Black Friday deals here. 

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