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Edmonton Oilers Pipeline: Yale captain Phil Kemp has intriguing defensive game

Phil Kemp takes place in the Edmonton Oilers development camp at the Community Rink in Rogers Place on June 24, 2019.
Phil Kemp takes place in the Edmonton Oilers development camp at the Community Rink in Rogers Place on June 24, 2019.

Most NHL seventh-round draft picks are get-out-of-town, fold-up-your-scouting-binders selections.

“OK, we’re at No. 200 already … got any suggestions?”

When the Edmonton Oilers took Phil Kemp with the 208th selection in 2017, more people were interested in the kid at 177 they had taken, Rod Brind’Amour’s son, Skyler, because — OK, we admit it — he was a good story.

But Kemp, the just-named Yale captain, has made very big strides since. The Greenwich, Conn., born defenceman, now a senior majoring in history, could easily be signed.

The 21-year-old was Quinn Hughes’ partner on the 2019 U.S. world junior team. He was the strong, silent type to the flashy Vancouver Canucks youngster who is battling with Colorado’s Cale Makar for NHL rookie of the year. There’s no dazzle factor with the six-foot-three, 200 pound right-shot defender Kemp, but NHL defences are a box of chocolates — all different kinds.

“He’ll never be a ‘wow’ player but he’s a big, rangy, competitive defenceman who is incredibly bright,” said draft expert Craig Button. “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.”

He shoots right, very important in today’s pro mix ’n’ match back-end pairings.

And, Kemp, who started with the U.S. development program at 16 before going to college, was extremely good alongside Hughes at the world juniors in Vancouver. He made one of the team’s critical plays in the semifinal, clearing the puck off the line to preserve a 2-1 win over Russia.

“The world juniors was huge for me, playing in Vancouver, something I’ll never forget. But it also did a lot for my game. I thought I played my role pretty well. Took away a lot of confidence. The skill level was a whole different animal,” he said.

He figured Hughes would break into the Canucks with a bang.

“I’m not the least bit surprised. He’s one of my best friends but I’m not being biased when I say he should have gone way higher (than seventh overall) in his draft year. He’s so nifty, so skilled with the puck. He’s going to be playing in the NHL for a long time,” said Kemp.

“I hope a little of his offence rubbed off on me, but when we were partners I tried to facilitate his game as much as possible and I think I did a pretty good job. You have to let him roll. He’s an absolute weapon.”

Kemp has been labelled the ultimate shutdown defenceman, probably because he doesn’t put up a lot of points.

“I think my role is as a defensive defenceman, but I think I have some sneaky offensive ability people might overlook. My job is to keep developing them,” he said.

“My game, to a T, is being reliable every time out there.”

Kemp isn’t blind to the fact the Oiler organization’s strongest asset is its young defencemen.

“(Evan) Bouchard is very talented, (Philip) Broberg too, (Dmitry) Samorukov is an outstanding young defenceman. They have a great defensive core on the AHL (American Hockey League) team. Be awesome to be a part of that. I think I could learn a lot and to be competing with them would be awesome,” said Kemp.

Kemp has no idea when college hockey will be back.

“I’m just praying for a season. I think they definitely would play games with no fans. That doesn’t matter to me, I’m playing with my teammates. The buses would be the problem. No cross-country trips. Probably take those off the schedule,” said Kemp, who was always going back to school for a fourth year, rather than entertain a possible pro offer from the Oilers after his junior season at Yale.

Scott Howson, the former Oilers head of player development and president in waiting at the AHL, feels Kemp has upside.

“Phil has size, he competes, his skating has improved,” he said. “His passing has to get better.”

E-mail: jmatheson@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @NHLbyMatty

PHIL KEMP

AGE: 21
HOMETOWN: Greenwich, Ct.
HEIGH: 6-foot-3
WEIGHT: 201 pounds.
POSITION: Defence
SHOOTS: Right.
DRAFTED: 2017, seventh round, Edmonton.

THE SKINNY: Captain of Yale University, going into his senior year, stay-at-home defender, unsigned … Played in two world under 20 championships for Team USA, national team partner of Quinn Hughes … Brother Larkin played in the National Lacrosse League for the Denver Outlaws, and his grandfather, Phil, played football and baseball at Yale and was part of two Yale College World Series teams.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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