Michal Kempny arrived in Washington at midnight, was on the ice at the Capitals’ practice facility at 10:30 a.m. and then joined a meeting with his new coaches by 11:20 a.m. “I need everything to settle down a bit,” he said after all of that. Given the whirlwind past 24 hours, after the 27-year-old was traded from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Capitals on Monday afternoon, Kempny won’t play Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He expects to make his debut at Florida on Thursday, and General Manager Brian MacLellan said he envisions Kempny playing in the defense’s top four, alongside right-shot John Carlson, “to add some puck movement and good defense and some mobility.” Carlson also happens to be Kempny’s new neighbor in the practice facility’s dressing room.
“I think [Coach Barry Trotz] is probably a little more conservative on it, but I think [Kempny] will got a shot at playing there, and we will see how he does with it,” MacLellan said.
With Kempny expected to play beside Carlson, rookie Christian Djoos will likely move down to a third-pairing role beside Brooks Orpik. And with both players left shots, Djoos will almost certainly be asked to play on the right.
The Capitals waived defenseman Taylor Chorney on Tuesday afternoon, and if he clears, the team intends to reassign him to the American Hockey League. That will bring Washington back down to seven defensemen and also clear an additional $800,000 in salary cap room with the Feb. 26 trade deadline less than a week away and more moves expected. Though the Capitals are in first place in the Metropolitan Division, they’re 6-4-4 in their past 14 games with 3.5 goals against per game in that span. The trade for Kempny came two days after Washington was hammered, 7-1, in Chicago.
“I think we are looking to upgrade our defense, and I think we need the elements that he brings to our team,” MacLellan said. “You know, he is a good puck mover, a good skater. He’s got good mobility, and so we are hoping he can add some depth to our whole D corps.”
MacLellan said he has been tracking Kempny for a while, and he has now traded for a depth defenseman before the deadline in each of his four seasons in this post. Where Kempny differs from past acquisitions Mike Weber and Tim Gleason is his mobility. He’s considered a strong skater and “good first pass,” Kempny said.
After playing more than 200 games in the Czech League, Kempny signed as a free agent in Chicago before last season, but he expected more playing time than he received, and this change of scenery was welcome, especially with the Blackhawks unlikely to make the playoffs. He played just 31 games for Chicago this season, averaging 15:19 in ice time and scoring one goal with six assists. The Capitals’ locker room had at least one familiar face: fellow Czech Jakub Vrana.
“Now I’m here, and I’m really glad that I’m here,” Kempny said.
“I think he’s a pretty good player,” MacLellan said. “I think we are going to give him a little bit more opportunity than Chicago has, and I would anticipate that he will take advantage of that.”
Pell reported from Annapolis.
Here’s how the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Scratched: Alex Chiasson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Madison Bowey
Scratched: Michal Kempny
Braden Holtby (starter)