Kemell MKE

Milwaukee, Wis. - Though the Milwaukee Admirals electrified their home crowd by scoring seven goals in Game 4 of the Calder Cup Playoffs’ Western Conference Finals on Thursday, none were likely quite as cathartic as Joakim Kemell’s.

Stealing the puck along the half wall and slinging a no-look pass into the slot, Admirals center Cal O’Reilly found Kemell, who fired a bullet past Coachella Valley Firebirds goalie Chris Driedger to regain Milwaukee’s lead before the game’s opening 20 expired.

The goal, which lit a fire under the home team, was no doubt just as exhilarating for its scorer, who’s been uncharacteristically quiet in that area during his sophomore postseason run.

Indeed, though the Nashville Predators’ first-round pick (17th overall, 2022) has amassed an identical number of points (10) in an identical number of games (14) as he did during his Calder Cup Playoffs debut last year, the goals and assists columns have flipped places (8g-2a in 2023, 2g-8a in 2024).

“He's playing really hard, and he's not used to not scoring,” Admirals Head Coach Karl Taylor said. “He's got an elite shot. We all know what his shot is like and how he plays, so for him it's a challenge to stay with it when you're not getting rewarded. So the whole bench was pretty excited when he scored [Thursday], because we know how much that is a part of his game. He’s still making plays, he's still top five in scoring for our players and he's doing lots of good stuff for us.”

Those growing pains are to be expected for someone Kemell’s age. Born April 27, 2004, the Predators prospect is the youngest member of the Admirals lineup and is far from impervious to the ebbs and flows that often come with a young NHL prospect’s development journey.

Even with the postseason dip, the young goal-scorer concluded his second professional North American season fourth in scoring among his Admirals teammates, recording 41 points (16g-25a) in 67 games, and currently shares the lead in assists (8) with teammate and fellow Finn Juuso Parssinen.

“He's got the same birthday as my son, so that was a reality check for me when he showed up here last year,” Taylor said. “But that's what we have to remember, that these players are so young. We’ve got ‘04s, ‘03s, There's some really young guys learning and with how well they played all season and last year for [Kemell], we forget what age they are and where they are in their development. There's still lots to learn and lots of room for growth, but the performances and how well they've done erases the fact that they are so young.”

For Kemell, playing against his age is nothing new. After all, the 20-year-old winger spent his draft year competing - and scoring the most rookie goals - against a number of established athletes in the Finnish Liiga, where players can enter as young as 15 and play until they decide to hang up the skates.

“Some of those guys have been playing for maybe 10 to 15 years in that league,” Kemell said. “And I had players on my team who were older and they’d give you advice on what to do to help you in your career. And I think when you play with older guys, there weren’t [too many] mistakes or that many bad games.”

Kemell has no doubt found himself in a similar situation playing alongside American League veteran Cal O’Reilly for much of his sophomore season.

It’s an intriguing combination, too. O’Reilly, born Sept. 30, 1986 - nearly four-and-a-half years earlier than brother and Predators center Ryan - is the Admirals’ most senior player. However, the nearly 18-year age gap has not gotten in the way of their on-ice chemistry.

“I like playing with Cal,” Kemell said. “He’s an amazing player who likes to make plays. And he would rather pass the puck than shoot it, so I kind of like it, because I would rather shoot than pass. It’s a good combination.”

That much was glaringly apparent on Thursday evening as Kemell put his elite shot back to good use once again.

“For him to get rewarded like that, hopefully that's going to float his boat a little bit moving forward,” Taylor said. “Maybe he'll have a little more confidence to get pucks through more and get more shots on net, which will increase his scoring opportunities.”

Kemell returns to the ice on Saturday as the Admirals look to stave off elimination once again in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

Puck drop is set for 6 p.m. CT at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, with the game available to stream with a subscription to AHLTV.