The rangy 6-goot-3 right-shot defender has watched as a pair of similar Condors compatriots have blazed a path Kemp hopes to follow. He has seen Vincent Desharnais and Michael Kesselring – who was dealt by the Oilers in the Nick Bjugstad trade earlier this season – both crack a National Hockey League lineup as big, right-handed defencemen. Desharnais suited up for 36 games with the Oilers, before appearing in another 12 in the playoffs while Kesselring saw action in nine regular season contests with the Arizona Coyotes.
“Yeah, two great players. Two great people too, honestly,” Kemp said. “I had the privilege to play with them in Bakersfield and they’re great teammates. I saw them take a great step playing the NHL and I’m looking to kind of follow in their footsteps and hopefully crack the lineup.”
When Desharnais departed the Condors in January, it allowed Kemp to step up and develop in his absence. As Kemp’s minutes went up, the more Bakersfield started to thrive. The Oilers affiliate was just 12-17-1-0 prior to Desharnais’ call up and went on to go 25-14-1-2 in the latter half of the season, qualifying for the AHL playoffs.
While the Condors surge isn’t directly linked to Kemp’s added opportunity, the Connecticut product did play a part in the second half success.
“There was a huge surge. It seemed like in the second half a lot of those guys took steps – [Noah] Philp, [Raphael] Lavoie, a lot of the young guys,” Kemp said. “And when you got a guy like [Calvin] Pickard back there, he kind of gives you a chance to win every night.”
Players taking steps seemed to be a common occurrence for Bakersfield, with top prospects by Lavoie, Philp, and Xavier Bourgault moving the needle in the latter half of the year for the California club. The Oilers seventh-round pick back in 2017 attributed Head Coach Colin Chaulk and his staff for his and the team’s development over the course of the season.
“We’ve had great coaches down there and they just kind of preach being efficient on breakouts, closing gaps, tight gaps, finishing plays, ending cycles, being reliable and just being kind of a team friendly guy,” Kemp said.
Kemp has flown under the radar when it comes to the Oilers pipeline, but that is just the kind of player he is and aspires to be. When asked by Bob Stauffer on Tuesday’s show who he idolized as a young hockey player, Kemp’s answer was as perfectly fitting to his game as it was surprising in long-time New York Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi.
The Welland, ON native was an unflashy and reliable member of the Broadway squad’s blueline for the better part of 11 seasons and suited up for 927 NHL games in total. As modest of a choice as Girardi is, following in the footsteps of a long and serviceable NHL career is a suitable ambition for a player in Kemp who was the 208th person selected in his draft class.
“I kind of see a bit of myself in him,” Kemp said. “I thought he was a great player. He was a great teammate on all successful teams. I think you need a guy like Girardi, and I hope I can kind of be that guy.”