Coming into the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft, it was unclear which direction the Nashville Predators were going to go. They had plenty of options. Would they look for a defender to help shore up that part of the pipeline? Or would they add another forward that can score?
They went the latter route.
In our very own Eric Dunay’s final draft ranking before the main event, he had Predators 17th overall draft pick Joakim Kemell ranked 10th overall. You can find his entire final top-96 ranking list here. And here was his brief description of the young Finnish prospect:
“While Brad Lambert struggled to start the year, Kemell came out of the gates scoring at a scorching rate. He plays with a good motor but doesn’t have elite speed. He can pull pucks off the wall and turn up the ice with quickness, but his standing accelerating steps aren’t amazing. He’s a phenomenal shooter and uses that threat to buy time and space for teammates in the offensive zone. I’d like to see some improvements to his skating mechanics and more aggressive forechecking, and I worry he’s more of a one-dimensional scorer at higher levels.”
By almost all accounts, Kemell is a top-10 talent in this year’s draft, so the Predators selecting him at 17 is excellent value. And of course Eric’s analysis is pretty spot on. There’s plenty to like about the young Finn’s game, even though not all of it is perfect. At times his skating can look a bit wonky, and one of my main concerns is his shot quality in particular, but overall he’s a player that is a threat to score no matter where he is on the ice.
Before we look at some clips, let’s go over the numbers so we know how well Kemell performed in the box score. In 2021 with JYP in the Liiga, he scored 15 goals and 8 assists (23 points) in 39 total games, which ranked 8th on the team. The goal total had him tied for third, but the player he is even with played 13 more games. The two players above him in second and first played 14 and 9 more games respectively as well.
In the U18 tournament with Finland, he was awarded the position of assistant captain and scored 8 points in 5 games, including 6 goals.
Kemell produced at a high rate this year in both tournament and Liiga play. And it’s no surprise when you dive into the video that this kid is scoring plenty of goals for his teams. But one thing that I don’t think he gets as much credit for as he should is his playmaking ability. In this clip, he retrieves a loose puck, quickly turns and looks for the open options, finds his defenseman, and moves the puck over for a one-time goal.
Of course, there are other times where the decision-making can be a bit lackluster, as there are with most young shoot-first players, but if he can tap into that side of his game more and become a little less one-dimensional, it would be a huge boost for his development.
Continuing on the trend of underrated parts of Kemell’s game, there’s plenty to like about his scrappy nature on the defensive end. Whether he’s forechecking hard and winning loose pucks as a result, or he’s body-checking opposing attackers after he pokes the puck off their stick, he’s certainly matured in that area of the game.
In the clip below, Kemell speeds toward the opposing defensemen and pressures them into making an errant pass that deflects into the middle of the ice. He also finishes his check. Kemell’s teammate retrieves the puck, shoots it, and the goalie saves it. Kemell then fires a rolling puck way wide, and even though that probably should have resulted in a goal, it gives us a good insight into what he’s capable of physically.
In the clip above we get a sneak peek of Kemell’s elite quick release. Below, we get to see it on full display as he launches a wrister from the far circle for a goal.
There’s nothing better than watching a player that can rip the puck from that distance with ease, but it’s vital that players with the same archetype as Kemell also learn how to make space for themselves and find open lanes to shoot. Below is one of those goals.
One of Kemell’s biggest downfalls is his shot selection, because even with great moves like the one above, there are a plethora of instances where he focuses too much on shooting instead of making the better play. If he can work on finding the BEST shot instead of just A shot, it will serve him very well at the NHL level. There’s also some skating mechanic issues that he has which can be worked on. It’s fun to watch him use his linear crossovers to gain speed, but his stride can look a little funky.
Despite his shot selection and slight skating issues, there’s so much to like about the newest addition to the Predators prospect pool. He’s a dynamic forward with excellent pace and willingness to use his body, and he’s not afraid to create space to open lanes for his impressive shot.
Kemell is signed through the 2023-24 season with JYP in the Liiga, but after that, it’s more than likely that he comes over to North America and joins the Predators, whether it’s with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL or on the full-time roster. Predators fans can be happy with this pick.