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Training Camp

Rookie Michal Kempny's poise impresses Blackhawks

26-year-old defenseman, signed as free agent, expected to earn regular role this season

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- It's been a couple of days since Michal Kempny joined the Chicago Blackhawks for training camp, but the rookie defenseman's poise on the ice is already getting noticed.

After going through one practice since returning from the World Cup of Hockey 2016, where he played for Team Czech Republic, Kempny jumped right into the fray in Chicago's first preseason game at United Center on Wednesday, a 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Paired with fellow rookie defenseman Ville Pokka, who also played in the World Cup for Team Finland, Kempny led the Blackhawks in ice time (22:27), blocked three shots, was credited with four hits, and played on the power play and penalty kill.

"I like the way he passes the puck," assistant coach Kevin Dineen said. "Everything's kind of crisp about his game. At the World Cup, you saw what he did when he was running the power play there. There's still little areas of the game that he'll continue to learn at [in the NHL], but I thought it was a decent showing for Michal."

Kempny, 26, is expected to earn a regular spot on one of the Blackhawks' defense pairings this season, likely playing with Trevor van Riemsdyk. If he pans out right away, it would be the second straight year Chicago benefits from landing a prized free agent catch from the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.

Chicago signed 23-year-old left wing Artemi Panarin out of the KHL last summer; he scored 30 goals, finished with 77 points and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

Kempny isn't expected to have that kind of impact on defense, but the Blackhawks lacked a steady, consistent defenseman for their third pairing last season. It was costly in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they lost to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference First Round, and was something they felt obligated to address in the offseason.

They did it by signing Kempny and veteran Brian Campbell, who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010.

"He looked good tonight," said Campbell, who played 20:49 against the Penguins and blocked three shots. "It's tough. You get one practice trying to get to know every single guy [on the team] and a little bit of the system, but he's got some poise. He makes some good plays out there. I think what we thought was coming has definitely been impressive."

Like Panarin, Kempny isn't fluent enough in English to conduct interviews on his own yet. That doesn't mean his communication is hampered on the ice.

"Don't let him fool you, he can speak a little English," goalie Scott Darling said. "A lot of guys are shy, and I would be too if I was in a different country ... but when they're around us, they know all the terms and everything on the ice and they're yelling in English. So, there's no problems back there."

The Blackhawks are hoping there is no lingering problem involving two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, who missed the World Cup because he needed additional rehab work on his surgically repaired right knee. Keith, 33, has yet to be included in anything but team drills.

Keith didn't play Wednesday and will miss at least the next three preseason games. His status for the season opener against the Blues at United Center on Oct. 12 is undetermined. The injury stems from early last season, when Keith missed a month after having surgery to fix a torn meniscus in his right knee.

"It's been a long time since I played, so I feel like it's coming along the way I want it to be," Keith said Tuesday. "It was obviously disappointing not being able to go [to the World Cup], but I thought after talking with the doctors and trainers, the best course would be to give it more time after doing some things with it and seeing how that reacts. It is what it is now. It feels better and better. I don't really think about it out there."

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