UPDATE: Hawks GM Stan Bowman confirms the team's interest in Kempny, but says a deal is not a "certainty" yet. Kempny is still playing for the Czech Republic in the World Championships, so it seems like he might wait to make his final decision on where to play next season once he's done with that.
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The Chicago Blackhawks are "very close" to signing top KHL free agent Michal Kempny, reports Igor Eronko of Sport-Express. Eronko says the news comes from Barry Smith, the Blackhawks' director of player development, which makes it sound like a deal is all but certain at this point.
Kempny, 25, is considered one of the top players available out of the KHL, Russia's top hockey league, this year. After starring with HC Kometo Brno of the Czech league in his early 20s and making the leap to Avangard Omsk of the KHL in 2015-16, he quickly acclimated himself as one of the top blue liners in the league.
In 59 games with Avangard Omsk, Kempny recorded five goals and 16 assists. He was tied for 24th among all KHL defenseman in points.
Kempny also regularly plays internationally for the Czech Republic, and earned an alternate captain's label for the 2016 World Championships. He's expected to be on the Czech roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey later this year.
Last month, Darren Dreger reported that several teams were pursuing Kempny and the Blackhawks were "in the mix." Given the team's need for defensemen and the lack of options due to their salary cap situation, signing Kempny would be a strong, low-risk move that could really work out.
It's worth noting that the defenseman who led the KHL in points this season was Cam Barker. While the second-to-last player the Hawks nabbed out of the KHL might end up winning the Calder Trophy this year, Artemi Panarin has proven to be special in countless ways. Kempny is undoubtedly an intriguing talent and a solid flier for the Hawks to take, but it would be a miracle if this signing worked out as well as that one.
Then again, it doesn't need to. Kempny being a steady third-pairing defenseman would still be useful. Chicago currently has Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, David Rundblad and several prospects under contract for the 2016-17 season. Kempny should have a pretty good chance to crack into that group assuming this deal doesn't fall through.