One of the clear lessons from the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators was that their defense has to get younger and faster. That process started Saturday with the signing of Michal Kempny to a one-year, $900,000 contract extension.
Kempny, 26, played in 50 games last season after being signed out of the Kontinental Hockey League but lost his spot in the lineup when the Hawks acquired veteran Johnny Oduya at the trade deadline. With Oduya and Brian Campbell set to become unrestricted free agents, Kempny likely will get a chance to be an every-day player next season.
Kempny, a puck-moving defenseman with a good shot, had two goals and six assists last season and had the best possession numbers on the team (the Hawks took 56.7 percent of the total shot attempts when he was on the ice at even strength), mostly on the second pairing with Brent Seabrook. But coach Joel Quenneville said Kempny’s play in his own end had to improve.
‘‘You like his speed and motion and movement from the back end,’’ Quenneville said late in the season. ‘‘You like his shot, his competitiveness. The area where we’re always looking for consistency [is] that predictability defensively we expect. But he does give us some pace.’’
‘‘Michal’s style of play is an asset to our defense,’’ general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement released by the team. ‘‘He is the type of player who will continue to improve now that he has transitioned to the National Hockey League. We look forward to his continued development on the ice for the Blackhawks.’’
Despite his disappointment with his playing time late in the season — he played only in Game 4 against the Predators — Kempny made it clear he wanted to stay in Chicago.
‘‘I’ve been learning the whole season, so I’m really grateful for being on a team like Chicago,’’ he said via interpreter before Game 4.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.