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You Make The Call!

Vincent Desharnais, Phil Kemp and Michael Kesselring are three defencemen looking to make the jump to the show. Who is most likely to make the move?

2017 NHL Draft - Portraits
Phil Kemp
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

The Assignment

For what seems like an eternity, the Edmonton Oilers have had piles of good left-handed defensemen whether it be on the Oilers or in the organization. Smarter people than me coined a phrase called “Leftorium” and it seems like this has been something that has followed the Oilers forever. Interestingly, a similar situation is starting to develop with right-handed defensemen in the Oiler organization. Certainly, it is a more modest and more prospect focused situation, but it is here. The development revolves around three very late draft picks who happen to be very large human beings and play RHD with Bakersfield Condors. The picks causing this situation are Vincent Desharnais, Phil Kemp and Michael Kesselring. Today, we will compare these Oilers’ prospects and you can decide if any of them will make the NHL, and if so, who will it be.

Who Are These Triple Towers?

Before we assess their skills, a quick review of where each came from. Vincent Desharnais is the elder statesman of the group at 26 years old having been drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 draft as an overager. Phil Kemp came next in the 7th round of the 2017 draft in his first-year eligibility. He is entering his 23-year-old season. The baby of the group is Michael Kesselring who was drafted out of high school in the 6th round of the 2018 draft and he is entering his 22-year-old season. Each player went the college route with Desharnais playing four years, Kemp playing three years and Kesselring playing two years. All three joined Bakersfield for the 20/21 season with Desharnais playing a bit the year prior and Kemp only showing up at the end of the 20/21 season after playing in Sweden for most of that Covid challenged season. Each of them played material minutes this season for the Condors both with Jay Woodcroft and Colin Chaulk. Desharnais played RHD1 and finished 5-22-27 in 66 games. Kemp played 55 games scoring 9 points and Kesselring played 55 games tallying 13 points.

What Does Each of Them Bring in Terms of Skills?

For starters besides all being right shot, they are all big men. Desharnais is the largest at 6’7” and 230 pounds. Kemp is the smallest at 6’3” and 215 pounds. Kesselring is 6’5” and 215 pounds. So, they all have something no one can teach them and that is size.

In terms of skills, let’s deal with the elephant in the room right away. Big right shot defenseman who get drafted very late almost all have the same issue – skating. This is certainly the case with each of these three prospects. Michael Kesselring is the best of the group in terms of skating. His straight-line speed front and back is the best of the group as is his lateral mobility. He’s a good skater with the puck and has an ability to use his edges for evasive maneuvers and to attack up the ice. Kesselring’s skating is the single most improved part of his game since his draft year. It would be very close to average for a NHL defenseman. His only challenge is his footwork when defending. He can get caught with some upper body tilt looking down at the puck and it causes him some balance issues.

Desharnais is next in terms of all around skating. His straight-line skating is below average but is fine given his size and reach. His troubles begin with his lateral mobility. He cannot handle speed wide with a great degree of success because his edge work is sluggish. In addition, it hinders his ability to make evasive turns with the puck to create time and space for himself. Often, his strategy is to fend off forecheckers with his size and advance the puck to a teammate in close range. This lack of mobility also plays into how he defends his blueline. Desharnais often lets the attacker enter the zone and then works to squeeze him to the board or force a pass using his length. The problem is that if he doesn’t space properly, attackers can step in and delay with the puck which forces a conundrum for Desharnais. Either he remains passive, or he attacks the puck carrier. Increasing his lateral mobility to hold the line more tightly would make him a massive challenge for opposing players.

Phil Kemp is certainly behind the other two in terms of overall skating. While his straight-line speed is not poor, it simply takes him a long time to get there. His first few steps are very heavy which is a result of a very clunky, chopping stride pattern when he makes an explosive start. Similarly, his lateral mobility is challenged as well. Again, this is a function of his lack of an explosive push off his edges and it allows attackers to beat him wide or force him to compensate to the outside thus allowing attackers to take a quick inside route back to the middle. If there is one item of Kemp’s game that must be improved, it is his skating because all his other tools are positive.

In terms of puck skills, one might think that Kesselring would have a strong advantage here given he is viewed as the most offensively gifted of the three. However, I think it is a much closer competition here with Kemp. Kesselring certainly skates the puck with more authority than either of the other two. It is the part of his game that gets noticed often because he moves with the puck quite well for a big man. His passing skills are also good although he doesn’t move the puck quickly at this point. He also shoots the puck well having scored a few times this year from distance with even a wrist shot.

Some would be surprised that Phil Kemp’s puck skills are quite good. He certainly does not have the attack ability with the puck of Michael Kesselring. Again, his skating limits his upside here. However, of the three, Phil Kemp is certainly the best passer of the puck. His decisions are quick, and his passes are very accurate. He can often be seen assessing his options for passes before he even gets the puck. There is no doubt his teammates love this part of his game because he gives them the puck before defenders can establish a check, providing them with time and space to operate. Whether it was Kemp’s time playing with Quinn Hughes at the USNTDP or whether it was present before that time, it is a strength. Another sneaky area of strength is Kemp’s shot. He certainly has the hardest shot of the group with the quickest release. He often catches AHL goalies by surprise with his shot and most of his goals come from distance.

Vincent Desharnais is a wild card when it comes to puck skills. His attack game is much like Kemp’s in that his lateral mobility limits his ability to threaten defenders. His shot is good but is very slow to come off the stick, so it often is blocked out front. His passing is where the chaos begins and ends. Below is one clip showing two passes by Desharnais in the same shift. The first, Desharnais has time to assess options and simply throws the puck to an opposition player. The second pass is a creative, quick pass that required a great degree of athleticism to complete and allowed for a quick breakout by the Condors. Personally, I have been very critical of Desharnais’s passing skills. However, other prospect watchers I respect are more optimistic with his passing. Whatever the current state of his passing skills are, for certain, it is one part of his game that will need to be strong for him to get to the NHL and succeed.

As a final note on Desharnais’ offense, people often point out his scoring rates and plus minus as evidence of his capabilities. Do not get me wrong, it’s great to see those numbers, but my usual retort is to ask whether he is getting zoomed by the players he plays with. Look at this Broberg shift in which Desharnais was plus one with a secondary assist. There is a fair amount of this in his point totals and plus minus.

In terms of their ability to defend, Desharnais and Kemp excel here, but do so in different ways. Desharnais, despite the fact he can be mean, defends in a very cerebral manner as opposed to aggressive. I think Jay Woodcroft called him a “sea monster” and you can see that in his game. He uses his size to angle puck carriers to the walls and then simply ties them up allowing his teammates to compete for the loose puck. He also has excellent understanding of off the puck defending in his own zone and is strong at keeping the net front clear for his goalie. As mentioned earlier his challenge is transitional defending on quick changes of direction.

Kemp is also very adept at in-zone defending. He’s more instinctive in his reads and tends to be more aggressive than Desharnais on the puck carrier. He’s got an excellent stick and his physicality is quite effective at knocking players off the puck. As with Desharnais, his challenge is transitional defending, which gets much harder at the NHL level.

For Michael Kesselring, this is his area of challenge. Kesselring has the size to do all the things that Desharnais and Kemp do in zone, but often he does not. Most of it is as simple as battle level. Also, some of it appears to be confidence. Remember this is the young man of the group and sometimes it looks like he gets lost in his reads because he doubts himself. This is one that should be solved with more playing time and video analysis, but it is also the element to his game that will hold him back from the next level.

Who Ya Got?

Before we send you off to play GM for a day, a word of caution. We are not talking top 4 NHL D prospects here. There is lots of data out there that illustrates that players drafted in this range have less than a 20 percent chance of playing NHL games. In addition, each player has material skill issues that will make it difficult to play further up than a 5/6/7 defenseman. Given all that, the Oilers still have something brewing here.

So, who do you have? The 26-year-old well developed giant who is a defense first guy but has put up impressive counting stats and plus minus. The 23-year USDTNP graduate who plays like the first prospect but is three years younger and has some sneaky puck skills. Or the 22-year-old offensively able kid of the group who has better skating skills and flashes some dynamic offense at times. Odds say it is none of them, but if the odds are wrong? Who is it? Or is it more than one? You decide.


Which defenceman is most likely to become an NHL regular?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Vincent Desharnais
    (48 votes)
  • 38%
    Michael Kesselring
    (87 votes)
  • 20%
    Phil Kemp
    (47 votes)
  • 18%
    None of the above
    (42 votes)
224 votes total Vote Now