Maple Leafs’ David Kampf: Under-the-Radar Asset

The best thing about David Kampf is that, although he’s not glitzy, he’s highly effective. He helps the Toronto Maple Leafs win games; and, he usually does it behind the scenes where most of us as fans don’t see it.

The Maple Leafs are loaded with elite offensive players. However, for my money, Kampf is one of the team’s best players. He’s also perhaps the player who flies the farthest under the radar. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kampf Can Replace Some of Hyman’s Intangibles

I believe he’s as responsible for much of the team’s defensive prowess as Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are responsible for the team’s offensive prowess. 

Kampf Handles the Dirty Work

On a team like the Maple Leafs that’s flooded with expensive stars, he’s one of the team’s best values. Forgetting the glitz, Kampf handles the dirty work. He’s the “fixer.” He heads to the ice when the team’s in trouble to help bail them out.

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

Kampf does the hard work of keeping the opponents’ puck out of the Maple Leafs net. And he’s good at it. The bottom line is that he helps the Maple Leafs win games. As well, although the team didn’t win in the first round of the 2021-22 postseason, for Maple Leafs’ fans who really watched that series carefully, Kampf showed up – and he showed up big. 

Kampf Is Simply One of the Best Defensive Players in the NHL

Kampf is strong both when the team plays five-on-five and when the team’s down a player. According to Evolving Hockey, his short-handed defense ranked among the league’s very best for forwards. He tied for third in the NHL with four short-handed points during the regular season. Those points included two short-handed goals.

Related: Blackhawks 2020-21 Player Grades: David Kampf

All this from, let me remind fans, a player many believed would add nothing to the team. With only a single goal the season before with the Chicago Blackhawks and then not even being good enough to be qualified by a losing team, what could he bring? 

That was rhetorical.

Mitch Marner Calls Kampf a Bull

Mitch Marner, who’s often one of Kampf’s penalty-kill partners, has plenty to say in praise of Kampf.

Marner noted that Kampf’s “a lot of fun to be out there with on the penalty kill. He’s so smart with his stick positioning. Obviously, on face-offs he’s a bull — he can win a lot.”

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner Celebrate a Goal (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Marner also hinted why Kampf had been a part of so many short-handed goals: “He’s (Kampf) not afraid to get in lanes; he’s not afraid to break up passes, (or) step up in the neutral zone. He’s done a great job for us all year long on that kill.”

Kampf Is Far Better Offensively than Expected 

During the 2021-22 season, his first with the Maple Leafs, Kampf scored a career-high 11 goals and 26 points. There’s no doubt Kampf was helped by playing with the Maple Leafs. That also includes that he is and continues to be the beneficiary of the team’s world-class development staff. 

Related: How Toews’ Return Will Impact the Blackhawks

While I can’t imagine the specific skill work involved, I don’t doubt there was a lot of shooting practice and study of the elements of shooting – such as setup, deception, and effective goalie targeting. 

Kampf’s Short-Handed Face-off Skills

Kampf’s bread and butter is his ability to play short-handed. He’s amazingly successful at short-handed face-offs. The Nashville Predators Colton Sissons was the only NHL player who took more short-handed draws than Kampf did during the regular season. 

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

Last season, Kampf’s face-off percentage was 52.9, which ranked him in the top 25 of all NHL players with over 1000 face-offs. (By the way, he was the second cheapest option of all those players with his $1.5 million salary-cap hit).

Among all NHL players with over 1000 face-offs in 2021-22, Kampf also ranked second in defensive zone draws and second in shorthanded draws. Deconstructing that statistic shows that Kampf does more than just win face-offs; it also means that he wins them against the toughest face-off opponents in the league.

Winning Face-offs Translates into Puck Control

How important is it to win face-offs? When Kampf was on the ice for the Maple Leafs, the analytics show that the team only surrendered 2.1 expected goals-against per 60 minutes. That’s an impressive statistic, and it comes despite the fact that Kampf started many of his shifts taking a defensive-zone face-off.

Last season, the shutdown third line of Kampf, Ilya Mikheyev, and Pierre Engvall were among the NHL’s most effective at moving the puck from the defensive end to the offensive end. The line was also one of the NHL’s most effective in the expected-goals department. 

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas didn’t hesitate to sign Calle Jarnkrok as a Mikheyev replacement for his third line. He realizes the importance of puck control and transition into the offensive zone.

Kampf’s Lines Match Up Well Against Anyone

The third line Kampf centered showed they could play against anybody. Almost 30 percent of Kampf’s minutes during the regular season came when his line was matched up against elite competition. In that time, the Maple Leafs outscored opponents 12-9. (from “Why David Kampf could prove especially useful for the Leafs in the playoffs,” Jonas Siegel, The Athletic, 03/05/2022).

Related: Maple Leafs’ 5 Key Offseason Additions: Pass or Fail

What the Maple Leafs have in Kampf is a shutdown center, who’s used by his head coach during the hardest minutes of the game; who wins defensive-zone draws against the NHL’s best; and, who’s signed for one more year on a team-friendly deal.

According to Evolving Hockey, Kampf is one of the most effective defenders in the league. As well, he’s a short-handed fireball and one of the Maple Leafs’ under-the-radar stars.