When the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the 2021-22 regular season, 25 percent of their lineup were new faces trying to build chemistry with a core that still had so many questions following another first-round exit.
Zach Hyman was gone. Frederik Andersen was gone. Heck, even the underrated Zach Bogosian had returned to the Tampa Bay Lightning. As for who the Maple Leafs brought in, names like Nick Ritchie, Michael Bunting, Ondrej Kaše and Petr Mrazek topped the list.
But one name didn’t exactly make headlines when he signed with the Maple Leafs on July 28. A depth signing for the team, the Maple Leafs locked up David Kämpf with a two-year deal, carrying an average annual value (AAV) of $1.5 million.
The Chomutov, Czech Republic, native was coming off his fourth season with the Chicago Blackhawks when the Maple Leafs signed him, and thus far he’s been one of the more integral parts of the Maple Leafs lineup to start the year – an under-the-radar role player.
Maple Leafs’ Kämpf a Defensive Workhorse
While Bunting and Kaše were brought in to provide offensive depth, Kämpf filled a spot that the Maple Leafs need on their penalty kill and when it comes to playing in his own end.
It’s easy to see that Kämpf isn’t known for providing highlight-reel offence. In four years with the Blackhawks, he tallied 17 goals and 59 points over 235 regular season games for a point-per-game average of 0.25 points per game.
Now, while he’s outpacing that average to start his tenure with the Maple Leafs with nine points in his first 30 games, that’s not what fans should be focused on. Instead they need to look at what he’s added to the team defensively and how he has given the Maple Leafs’ third line a true identity – something that has been missing over the past number of seasons.
He may not be the leader in either category, but Kämpf has sacrificed his body at times this season with 10 shot blocks and 32 hits – sixth on the Maple Leafs in the latter category.
But what might make him even more appealing is his faceoff accountability. On the season, he’s won over 57 percent of his faceoffs taken. Where in previous years the Maple Leafs have sent out John Tavares or Auston Matthews for defensive zone faceoffs, this season they have another option in Kämpf.
Kämpf is first on the Maple Leafs in defensive zone starts with 144 – the closest is Jake Muzzin with 126. He’s taken 262 defensive zone faceoffs, tops on the team, and they account for nearly 62 percent of his overall faceoffs taken this season. Assuming he’s winning them at a rate of 57 percent – his season win percentage – he’s been a reliable option for the coaching staff in Toronto. And it’s because of that, that he’s earned himself more playing time with the Maple Leafs.
Kämpf Strengthening Maple Leafs’ Penalty Kill
As for the Maple Leafs penalty kill, it’s improved over last season. During their 56-game shortened year, the team was one of the worst finishing the year tied in 23rd with the Montreal Canadiens with a successful kill rate of 78.5 percent.
This season, with a revamped penalty kill lineup, the Maple Leafs’ PK is clicking at a rate of 82.1 percent – good enough for 10th in the league through their first 30 games. And Kämpf is a big part of that success so far.
He’s played the second most minutes on the penalty kill this season (71:31) behind only Muzzin’s 78:33 and has been on the ice for just three power play goals against this season. On top of that, his faceoff success has carried over to the PK – having won 44 of his 84 draws on the PK for just over 52 percent.
And it’s noteworthy because no other player has come even close to taking as many draws as him this season on the PK when it comes to the Maple Leafs. The next player on that list is Jason Spezza with eight wins and 21 total faceoffs – while Kämpf’s 44 wins is good enough for fourth in the league this season when it comes to the PK.
Kämpf Delivering on Maple Leafs’ Third Line Identity
But possibly the most underrated part of the addition of Kämpf this offseason is his ability to add to the character and identity in the team’s bottom six. It’s something the Maple Leafs have missed for a long time, but seem to have found a player who is willing to sacrifice everything to win the game – and do so while embracing his role with the team.
Placed in a shutdown role on the team’s third line, Kämpf has found chemistry with nearly every player who has lined up with him this season and found a way to be an above average third line at the NHL level.
He’s played nearly 225 minutes with Ondrej Kaše and nearly 195 minutes with Pierre Engvall, but he’s also seen time with Nick Ritchie (75:01), Alexander Kerfoot (64:22) and Wayne Simmonds (53:22) and still found ways to make the line productive in the role they are playing for the Maple Leafs.
Alongside Engvall and Kaše, he has a Corsi For Percentage (CF%) of 52.65 and 51.42, respectively. And while Kaše has been moved up and down the lineup with injuries and such, Kämpf has been the constant that has helped the Maple Leafs remain in the bottom seven teams when it comes to goals allowed – having given up just 75 through 30 games.
For the first time in a long time, the Maple Leafs have a reliable third line and it all starts with Kämpf. Shutdown or depth forward – call him what you will – he’s making an impact in the lineup and because of it, he could prove to be their most important offseason acquisition.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.