By Warren Kozireski —
In the later rounds of the National Hockey League entry draft, many teams focus on potential sleepers or late developers that may have been overlooked by other scouts and teams.
The New York Rangers made current Cornell freshman defenseman Hank Kempf their seventh-round selection (208th overall) hoping that they can hit the jackpot with a second Hank in the final round. They selected future Hall of Fame goaltender Henrik (Hank) Lundqvist 205th overall in 2000.
And while it would be more than unfair to put the pressure of being a franchise player on a 19-year-old, the early returns on their investment are promising.
Playing in each of the team’s first 11 games this season for the top-ten nationally ranked Big Red, the 6’2”, 190 lb. Illinois native had four assists—over four consecutive games in November—and stood third among the team’s blueliners with 17 shots on goal.
“I’ve been loving it so far,” Kempf said in early December. “It’s definitely been an adjustment; much faster and guys are much stronger. And as far as coaching, we are so much more accountable for details and things like that, but it’s been really fun getting used to.”
Kempf is paired most shifts with fifth year defenseman and team captain Cody Haiskanen and is learning seemingly every period.
“He’s a fifth-year and knows so much more than me and he’s teaching me every day about details. Every shift we talk and he’s been great.”
Kempf played the last two seasons with Muskegon in the USHL and was known more for his defense with a combined 27 points over 75 games in two campaigns—albeit one shortened due to the pandemic. He was a combined +21 and was selected to play with the U.S. National team at the 2019-20 Hlinka Gretzky Cup U-18 tournament.
“Sometimes I like to think I have more in my game, but being called a shutdown defenseman is also a compliment. I’m still trying to add more and more to become a true two-way. Down the line as I keep progressing, I think I’m always going to be more defensive leaning, but if I can help the team offensively in the neutral zone or transitioning pucks up the ice it’s something that I want to keep working on.”
Even though the Rangers delayed their summer prospect camp to September preventing college players from participating since classes were in session, Kempf still got to skate on Madison Square Garden ice Thanksgiving weekend as the Big Red played their annual non-conference Red Hot Hockey game against Boston University.
“That was one of the coolest things, if not the coolest thing, that I’ve ever done. We had such a good crowd and just being in such a huge city in the most famous arena in the world was just a really special experience.”
One Rangers fans hope he is able to replicate in the not-to-distant future.