It certainly took some time, but the adjustment has been made.
The adjustment that is spoken of is twofold; Boston Bruins’ fans are getting used to seeing Joonas Kemppainen wearing the Black and Gold while he himself is making the transition of playing at a consistent level in the National Hockey League.
Kemppainen, originally perfecting his craft over in Finland for the first nine years of his career, was signed by the Bruins in May of this year to a one-year, two-way contract. Right from the moment he arrived in Boston and listening to management touting his great work ethic, we knew that he was immediately going to compete for a roster spot.
Once Gregory Campbell was told he was not going to be re-signed by Boston, one of the gaping holes on this team was who was going solidify the fourth-line center position? You can throw all of the names out there, both internally and externally, but management had the sight set on Kemppainen filling the void.
One thing is for sure, he has got the size. Standing 6’2” and weighing 213 lbs., the 27-year-old matches up quite well with most bottom-six forwards in the league, especially in the Atlantic Division where there are several teams that roll out undersized centers on a nightly basis (Montreal, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay just to name a few). He uses his size every game to present a strong forecheck and his long reach serves him well in all three zones.
Also, he is solid at the face-off dot as he is currently second on the team in face-off win percentage with slightly under 51%. He has earned the trust of B’s head coach Claude Julien to play in all situations where he accumulates minutes; he is averaging around 12 minutes in time on ice. Unfortunately, the aspect of his game that goes unnoticed—and it is not necessarily his fault—is his natural ability to put the puck in the net.
Kemppainen played in the Finnish Elite League from 2006-2015 with Oulun Kärpät, HPK Hameenlinna, and Assat Pori. During his nine seasons in Finland, Kemppainen totaled 62 goals and 99 assists for 161 points in 464 regular season games with a combined plus-41 rating. In 65 postseason appearances in the Finnish Elite League, he has accrued 13 goals and 20 assists for 33 points with a plus-19 rating.
Yes, playing overseas is extremely different from playing in the NHL. In Finland, the rinks are larger and there is a higher emphasis on skill and speed, where playing the North American brand of hockey requires much more grit and a physical presence. With only one goal and one assist in 2015-16, he may not have the stats at this point in the year to support his case entering Thursday night. But look at the current situation.
With all due respect to Zac Rinaldo and Tyler Randell, they will not win the Art Ross Trophy any time soon. The role that is expected out of each of them is to play a heavy game while putting pressure on the opposition’s top defensive paring. That leaves Kemppainen in a position where he could be set up to fail.
Believe it or not, he has been having a sneaky good year as a member of the Bruins…according to the eye test.
There was a moment in the game this past Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks where he got his opportunity to come through in the clutch. Since the team was trailing in the third period, Julien put Kemppainen on the ice for a plethora of shifts hoping to net the tying goal. In fact, he set up Matt Beleskey for a golden chance at a tally, but the shot hit the post.
Kemppainen does have the offensive talent. He just does not get the chance to showcase his natural skill too often. The Bruins have always been deep down the middle, so having him as a fourth-line center is a luxury that the team needs to take advantage of from a matchup standpoint.
Be careful on the judgment of this guy because he has been one of the consistent performers on this team so far this season.