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Kempe Seeks Job in NHL

Speedy forward Mario Kempe chose not to return to the KHL this season

by Anthony Perez The_Anthony_P / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE - Like most NHL teams, the Coyotes are looking to build their identity around players with speed. 

Forward Mario Kempe is hoping to earn a job with the team by showing he possesses that valued quality during training camp.

"I don't know much about him, but I've noticed him," Head Coach Rick Tocchet said during the first weekend of camp. "He's got some speed, he's in great shape and he's got some offensive talent."

The Coyotes signed Kempe to a one-year, two-way contract in May in an effort to bolster the team's forward depth and address the need for speed.

Kempe was drafted in the fifth round (122nd overall) by Philadelphia in 2007. After spending the following season in the QMJHL with St. John's and representing his native Sweden in the IIHF World Junior Championship, Kempe returned to Sweden and played professionally there for six seasons. 

Before the 2014-15 campaign he signed with Vityaz Podolsk of the KHL, where he notched 83 points (39 goals, 44 assists) in 166 regular-season games over the span of three seasons. 

And now Kempe, 29, finds himself back in an NHL training camp, looking to show Tocchet and the Coyotes what he brings to a roster matches their needs. 

"I try to use my strength on the ice and play with a lot of energy and speed," Kempe said. "Of course, I try to create room for my teammates and make my linemates better by using my speed and grit to create spaces." 

And while Kempe is a new face at Coyotes training camp, he's not exactly a stranger to everyone in the dressing room. He and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson represented Sweden together at last spring's IIHF World Championship during the time Kempe signed with the Coyotes. 

"It's good to have him here," noted Kempe, a native of Kramfors, Sweden. "If I need help with an apartment or something else I can always go to him and ask him because he's already been here for several years. It feels unbelievable that he's here and can help me out." 

Kempe is also getting some extra help from about 400 miles away in Los Angeles where his brother Adrian, who is seven years younger than him, is a forward for the Kings. The pair worked out together over the off-season and pushed each other to keep performing at a high level. 

"We speak a lot, we speak almost everyday to each other, we are very close," Kempe said. "It's a big difference between our ages, but we're still very close. I've seen him grow up and seen him become the good person and good player that he is." 

Of course, Kempe could've stayed in the KHL and continued to post the offensive numbers he was posting for Vityaz Podolsk. But the opportunity to return to North America and prove himself at the highest level possible was just too enticing to pass up. 

"I had three good years (in the KHL) but what I missed the most was to go out in a game and have an actual game plan for the team to follow," Kempe said. "In Russia the language is harder so you don't always understand it. They don't always translate too well for you, so it's more of a 'just go out and play' attitude. I missed how professional it is here, how you go out and play as a team. You have an actual game plan and the team follows it and you win games. That's the part I missed. And, of course, the NHL is the best league in the world. Who doesn't want to play here?"

Tocchet respects Kempe, one of 48 players still at camp after Monday's roster cuts, for trying to make it in the League.

"He had opportunity to go to Europe and make some big money but decided he wants a shot at the NHL," Tocchet said. "That means a lot. He's a good player. He's done a nice job out there."

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