Philip Kemp’s Senior year at Yale didn’t go at all as he would have planned.
After a strong showing at the 2019 World Juniors, the former United States Development Program standout was set to serve as the Yale Bulldogs’ captain for the 2020-21 season. In November of 2020, the entire six-time Ivy League announced that there would be no season, which ultimately resulted in a premature end to Kemp’s NCAA career.
Shortly after that announcement, the Oilers and Kemp agreed to a three-year, entry-level deal. This decision allowed Kemp a direct line to professional hockey as it resumed in North America and it eased Edmonton’s anxiety about losing another interesting Ivy League defender, as they did a few years ago with John Marino.
Kemp started his 2020-21 season in Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second league, and then had a cup of coffee with the AHL Condors when the league resumed play. Next season, he seems primed to spend the year honing his craft in Bakersfield, looking to make good on the promise he showed as a strong shutdown defender with the U.S. Development program and in the NCAA.
Nationality: United States
Date of Birth: Feb. 12, 1999
Drafted: 2017, No. 208 overall (EDM)
Weight: 203 lbs
Kemp came up through the United States National Development program as a junior, serving as the U17 team’s captain in 2015-16 and the U18 team’s captain in 2016-17. He won gold with the United States at the U18 World Juniors in 2017 and won silver at the U20 World Juniors a couple of years later. The video featured above is Kemp making a game-saving play for the U.S. in their semi-final match against Russia.
At Yale, Kemp served as a defensive stalwart for the Bulldogs, just as he did when playing for the U.S. Development Program. Kemp’s first two seasons at the NCAA level featured eight-point performances and his third season resulted in a career-high of 11 points in 32 games. His production in his first pro gig in Sweden, playing with Vasby in Allsvenskan, was virtually the same, as he scored 10 points in 32 games.
So, long story short, Kemp doesn’t produce much offensively, but the value in his game comes from tight, steady defensive play. Quick, puck-moving defencemen have been in vogue in the NHL in recent years, but there’s certainly still room for a big, physical defender who can shut things down.
Another interesting thing about Kemp is that he’s excelled playing an under-the-radar role on strong teams. As I mentioned earlier, he captained two different U.S. Development teams, impressive given they featured the likes of Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, and Quinn Hughes.
Craig Button spoke about Kemp’s unheralded game and how growing up playing alongside elite talent has allowed him to find a niche as a successful depth player…
“He’ll never be a ‘wow’ player but he’s a big, rangy, competitive defenceman who is incredibly bright. Probably not top three, or in top-two pair but can he be uncomfortable for opponents in his zone, breaking up a play. And the puck going the other way, can he get that puck moving in an effective way? Yeah, I think Phil has developed his game to that point.
“He’s also grown up and played with really good players. What I worry about with players who haven’t done that is they think they’re better than they are and they’re not. And they don’t have any understanding what their role is playing with top-end players.
“That’s why Ben Lovejoy was a good player for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That’s why Brian Dumoulin has found his way to the NHL and been steady. That’s an important quality. Phil knows how to play with good players. He has really, really improved.”
We’ll get a better view of how Kemp looks as a professional in 2021-22 as the AHL has more of a normal season than 2021 was. It’s hard to gauge a North American playing in Sweden’s second league and Kemp only played 12 regular-season games with Bakersfield as he missed some time due to a facial injury suffered in a fight.
The Condors are going to be loaded with blueliners next season so Kemp will have plenty of competition to earn consistent playing time. But, as Button mentioned, Kemp has played on good, deep teams in the past and he’s always found a way to contribute.
For reference, players who I consider to be “prospects” for this countdown are skaters who have played fewer than 50 NHL games and goaltenders who have played fewer than 25 NHL games. I’m basing the rankings on a combination of upside and the likelihood of reaching that potential.