Maple Leafs Commentary: David Kampf, King of Shutdown Hockey

This is our eighth Toronto Maple Leafs’ player review. Thus far, we’ve reviewed Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Michael Bunting, William Nylander, John Tavares, Alex Kerfoot, and Pierre Engvall. Today, we’ll look at David Kampf.

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As a reminder, if you missed the first posts, we’re basing these reviews on the extensive film study and note-taking of long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith. When he reviews each game after it’s played, he notes what each player does with the puck, without the puck, where they are, and what they’re doing while not directly involved in the play, etc. 

Maple Leafs Player #8: David Kampf

Whoever says there is no room for pure defensive players in the NHL is wrong. The Maple Leafs’ third-line center David Kampf is living proof of that. He has to be general manager Kyle Dubas’ second-best signing of the 2021 offseason. Everyone knows who the first-best signing was – Michael Bunting.

Never a Scorer, Kampf Has Made His Mark Playing Defense

For a player who was never drafted and who has now only scored double-digit goals twice in his career, Kampf has carved out a decent 333-game career. He has not survived in the NHL for that long on the strength of his offensive skills. Looking back, in the Czech League, Kampf once scored 15 goals as a 22-year-old before coming to the Maple Leafs. Those two times are it.

David Kampf Toronto Maple Leafs
David Kampf, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kampf thinks defense first; he plays defense first; and, he does it extremely well. He skates in straight lines. He’s not very rough physically and you won’t see him throw thundering body checks; however, he uses his body very well to separate opposing players from the puck. 

Last Season’s Plan Was to Allow Kampf to Free Up Kerfoot, It Worked

Last year, after a preseason win over the Ottawa Senators, head coach Sheldon Keefe laid out the plan using Kampf for the season. Keefe noted that Kampf added to the team’s depth at center and added that Kampf brought “something I think our team has really needed the last couple of seasons … a guy whose strength is on the penalty kill and he welcomes defensive assignments.”

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Keefe went on to add that “Alex Kerfoot has done a lot of that work for us. To have the extra support here now with Kampf not only helps Kerf but also helps Matthews and Tavares as well. They have taken on really the bulk of the responsibility. That just gives us extra options and allows us to spread ice time around a little bit better.” 

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
David Camp’s ability has allowed Alex Kerfoot to move to the wing.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At that time, Keefe’s final comment was, “If we ever want to put Kerfoot on the wing, we have the support there. A lot of really good things come from that addition.” That is exactly what happened. Kerfoot was able to move to the wing when he needed to. 

Kampf’s Key Strength is His Willingness to Establish Positioning

What’s so interesting to us is that Kampf just seems to be exquisitely happy to play in his shutdown role. He does the hard work required for that position. 

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Surprisingly, as a defensive center, he does not block a lot of shots. Instead, he uses body positioning to tie up opposing players and keep them out of the shooting lanes. And, he does so legally, without taking many penalties (20 minutes last season). 

Even better, he does all of that for a paltry $1.5 million a season.

Kampf’s Biggest Weakness Is His Scoring Ability

While his play without the puck is his strength, we don’t think anyone has to watch much video to see that Kampf’s biggest weakness is his ability to do much with the puck when he has it. After scoring only 17 goals in 235 games before joining the Maple Leafs, Kampf managed to score 11 goals in 82 games last season. 

David Kampf Toronto Maple Leafs
David Kampf, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Some of the goals Kampf scored were the strangest and flukiest goals we’ve ever seen. He will definitely never be a threat for the Rocket Richard Award. In fact, we would be surprised if he ever scored that many goals in a season again. That said, given that he’s worked hard at the defensive end of his craft, could he become defter offensively? 

Kampf Is a Master of the Late-Game Shutdown

There is one situation where Kampf does play a smart game with the puck. That’s late in games when the Maple Leafs have a lead and the goal is to keep the puck as far away from their own net as possible. When tasked with using up opposing zone time cycling the puck when protecting a lead, Kampf becomes a totally different player.  

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If Kampf can keep playing defensively like he did last season, who cares how many goals he scores? He could probably still have value if he never scored again. As a bottom-six defensive specialist, his great defensive play gives head coach Sheldon Keefe a reliable presence at the end of the game and on the penalty kill.

We can see Kampf remaining a Maple Leafs’ player for a long, long time.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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