Get to know New York Rangers prospect defenseman Hank Kempf
When the Rangers drafted their final player of the 2021 draft, I noticed it was used on another kid named Hank. The last Hank to be drafted in the 7th round had a pretty good career. It felt even more fitting with the other Lundqvist announcing his retirement weeks later.
So what do we know about this new Hank? First off, he’s a defenseman and not a goalie. Other than that, not much. I reached out to him to discuss his journey to date.
Kempf, 19, skated in 26 games with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League (USHL) this past season, registering four goals and six assists for 10 points, along with a plus-five rating and 27 penalty minutes. He established a USHL career-high in goals in 2020-21, and he served as one of Muskegon’s alternate captains during the season. The 6-2, 191-pounder played parts of the last three seasons in the USHL (2018-19 – 2020-21), all with Muskegon, registering 28 points (four goals, 24 assists) and a plus-21 rating in 81 games. Kempf was named to the USHL All-Academic Team and the USHL All-Rookie Second Team in 2019-20. Internationally, the Chicago, Illinois native represented the United States at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.New York Rangers
Hank Kempf: Born and raised in Illinois
Hank Kempf, whose full name is Donald Henry Kempf, was born in Wilmette, IL into a family where sports played a big part. Together with his brothers and friends, Hank played a variety of sports, but baseball and hockey were the main ones. “I got into hockey through my dad, starting my brothers and me at a very young age,” Kempf explains.
Growing up near Chicago, he was a big Blackhawks fan. He was just 8 years old when they won the first of three Stanley Cups in a 6 year span. It solidified the bond he had with the team and Kempf, who played defense most of his childhood, looked up to the players who won those championships.
One of his favorites was two-time Norris winner Duncan Keith. “I loved watching Duncan Keith growing up. My dad would always take my brothers and me to Blackhawks games and I loved watching his intensity and work ethic out there,” he said. “I loved it when Keith would be on the ice over half the game in the Hawks playoff runs in the early-mid 2010s. He was just a pure work horse.”
Kempf played for the Chicago Junior Blackhawks at the Brick Invitational in 2012 at age 10 and later would represent the Chicago Young Americans and Chicago Mission at different age levels. That’s also where Kempf met the coach that had the biggest impact on his career so far, Brian Keane.
When asked about that time, Kempf is full of praise for his mentor. “I’ve been working with Brian Keane, a skills coach from the Chicago area since I was 13 or 14 years old. When I first met him, he was a first year coach a couple years out of college working with our local AA Bantam team, and doing skills skates on the side,” he explains. “Now, he works with some of the best players in the world, including Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. It really speaks to his ability to transfer his knowledge of the game to his players. He’s really helped me develop situational awareness and has taught me a lot of specific skills to aid me in certain scenarios on the ice.”
USHL, NCAA commitment and path to the NHL draft
At the end of the 2018-19 season, Kempf joined the Muskegon Lumberjacks where he would play for the next two seasons, his last as an alternate captain. He put up 28 points in 81 total games for the Lumberjacks.
Kempf committed to Cornell and it was an easy decision. “Cornell was absolutely my dream school. Then, when I visited, I immediately loved the campus and the culture of the hockey team,” he said. This summer he officially made the move and will play at Madison Square Garden a lot sooner than most fans might think. On November 27th he will take the ice with Cornell against Boston University at the Garden in what is called “Red Hot Hockey”.
Going there as a Rangers prospect will be a special moment for Kempf, who describes his experience of being selected by the Blueshirts.
“My draft experience was very special. I was with all my friends watching, then got the text from my agent: ‘New York!!!'” he recalled. “I immediately turned to my buddy, showed him the text and we all went crazy with excitement. It was very special being with all my friends who I’ve known my whole life, and who have supported me my whole journey.”
The process behind the draft of course started weeks or sometimes even months before, with interviews. “I spoke with one of the Rangers scouts prior to the draft for a 30-45 minute interview. I did this with several other teams, not more than maybe a couple times at most per team,” he said. “So, they did reach out to me, but it definitely wasn’t a sure fire thing in my mind that the Rangers would be the team I went to.”
He isn’t joining any other prospects at Cornell but for prospect followers, the name Cornell will sound familiar as it was the same school Morgan Barron went to after he was drafted in 2017. In the ECAC, Kempf will take on fellow Rangers defensive prospect Simon Kjellberg, who plays for RPI.
Style and expectations, and the number 24
When I asked him to describe his style of play Kempf explained that his “ability to be a consistent defensive presence” is the foundation. “I am also able to use a decent skillset to make strong plays with the puck and transition pucks quickly to promote offense.”
Over the next 4 years those skills will improve and he will do what needs to be done to get ready. He hasn’t spoken extensively yet to Jed Ortmeyer, the Rangers director of player development but in the coming years, those conversations will be frequent.
Originally playing on the left side, Kempf does indicate he has played on the right, despite the challenges it brings with it. “It can be tough in the neutral zone making plays with the puck behind your feet versus ahead of you,” he noted. “It is always a great challenge playing the off-side, but it no doubt makes you a better player.”
Kempf was a forward until he was about 12-13 years old. “I definitely made the switch to full time defense not only because I thought I was better at it, but also because I enjoyed it more,” he revealed.
It’s always interesting to hear what positions players played at a younger age. Tarmo Reunanen starting as a goalie, Zac Jones playing center until only a few years prior to being drafted by the Rangers, and K’Andre Miller who started as a forward as well.
When asked about his go-to number, he’s quick to respond and says it’s because of his favorite player growing up. “24 was my number growing up my whole life. I originally picked it because Martin Havlát wore it for the Blackhawks when I was very young. He was my first favorite player,” he said. “Unfortunately, 24 was already taken by an upperclassman at Cornell, so I chose 4.”
In his spare time, Kempf likes to play golf, as so many hockey players do, but more interesting is his latest hobby. “I definitely like to keep a busy life away from the rink. I love hanging out with my buddies, throwing on a sporting event or playing cards,” he tells me. “I also am really into golfing in the summer, and have recently tried picking up the guitar.”
Cornell’s first regular season game is October 29th, so fans have to wait a few more weeks to see Kempf in action.
PS: I want to thank Hank Kempf for sitting down with me and giving me the opportunity to share this story with our fanbase.