Having a player who can consistently score 30 goals is something every team desires. And something teams often overpay for. Be it in the trade market, or free agency.
The Los Angeles Kings had to do neither with the emergence of Adrian Kempe.
After breaking the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career last season, Kempe is on pace for 34 again this year. If he hits the 30-goal mark this season, he'll be the first player to score 30 in back-to-back seasons since Ziggy Palffy did it back in 2003.
Consistent goal-scoring has been an issue in Los Angeles for a long time and Kempe is solving that problem.
Despite this, Kempe doesn't receive much attention around the league. And is still underrated by many Kings fans.
After breaking 30 last season, many fans were convinced that was a one-off, that he elevated play in a contract year and would fall back to being a 15-20 goal scorer after signing a big ticket.
Instead, he's gotten better as an overall player while scoring at a 30+ goal pace.
He's on pace for 69 goals over two seasons right now. For reference, he's 26th in the league in goals over the last two seasons with 57 currently. But he isn't discussed as one of the league's premier goalscorers.
Kings players are often underrated, as are all players in small markets. We've seen this with Anze Kopitar throughout his career, but with Kempe, it feels a little different. Mainly because some Kings fans still have reservations about Kempe.
If fairness, Kempe is a flawed player. He doesn't do much defensively and takes too many bad penalties. But he's worked on those flaws this season, particularly his defensive play and the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Looking at his defense, according to Evolving-Hockey.com Kempe's even-strength defense score was a team-worst -3.5 last season. And is now at a -0.8 score. Still not great, but nearly three points better, pointing to a big improvement. Last season he was terrible defensively, this season he's been just below average.
He's also one of the team's most physical forwards and by far the most physical top-six forward.
His puck-carrying is also crucial for the team, both at five-on-five and with the man advantage. His ability to gain the zone with possession and create offense off the rush is excellent. Only Kevin Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson do those two things better on the Kings.
Kempe also does the majority of his damage at even strength. Fifteen of his 22 goals have come at even strength, and he's relied far less on empty net goals this season, with just one through 53 games. After scoring six last season. He's now on pace to score a true 30+ goals, without the help of empty netters.
He doesn't provide much in playmaking, although that's partially a consequence of being the main goalscorer on his line. We've seen him pull out a few nice assists this season and show flashes of playmaking. It's easy to forget he was more of a passer than a shooter when he was drafted and still has that ability.
Kempe, on pace for 34 goals and 56 points is a true star in this league. He's a premier goalscorer who's still improving as a complete player and should be treated as such. Concerns over a regression should be gone and I wouldn't be surprised to see him continue to improve his point totals over the next few seasons as the Kings' prospects develop.
At some point, the NHL's national audience will have to take notice of Kempe and Kings fans should already be on that hype train.
A solid playoff performance this year, potentially for more than one round, should do a lot for Kempe's reputation.
Regardless, the Kings should be happy to have him locked up at $5.5 million. Consistent 30-goal scorers don't grow on trees, and they often come with a hefty price tag.