What does it mean for an NHL hockey player to be under-appreciated? Typically, it means that their contributions to the team are not fully recognized or valued by fans or the media. However, at the same time, the fact that these players continue to play and be part of the team on the ice means that they are (at least) appreciated by the coaching staff.
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Underappreciated players are usually not stars. They usually lack flashy offensive statistics, or they’re seldom in the spotlight that seems to shine brightly on the star players on a team. Still, underappreciated players often have a significant impact on the team’s success, without receiving the recognition they deserve.
In my mind, there are a number of under-appreciated players currently on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ roster. In this post, I’ll share why I believe David Kampf and Calle Jarnkrok are two of them.
The Offensive Growth of David Kampf with the Maple Leafs
Kampf has made progress in his offensive game since joining the Maple Leafs. When he came to the team, he was seen as a bit of a washout with the Chicago Blackhawks because they didn’t qualify him and let him walk to free agency. General manager Kyle Dubas swooped in and signed Kampf to a deal worth $3 million over two years.
Many wondered why at the time. What could Kampf bring to the team? The answer is that he’s turned into one of the team’s most productive defensive players, and he’s on a bargain contract as well.
Before he laced up his skates with the Blue and White, he was known for his defensive abilities. However, few might have been able to predict how the Czech player would improve offensively.
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With the Maple Leafs, he’s been steadily improving his point production. In just one and a half seasons with the Maple Leafs, he’s already surpassed his goal-scoring and point totals from his four seasons in Chicago. He’s not only been able to adapt to the Maple Leafs’ system but he’s steadily growing into a secondary scorer for his new team. For as small as his goal total might be, they regularly come at exactly the right times.
When he’s been given more opportunities to contribute offensively, he’s done well. No one will suggest that he’s lighting it up, but his numbers have been a surprise, and they’re improving. In the 2022-23 season, not yet completed, he’s scored seven goals and added 16 assists (for 23 points) in 64 games. He’s on pace, with just under 20 games left to play, to beat his career-best last season of 11 goals and 15 assists (for 26 points) in 82 games.
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Kampf is improving his skills; additionally, his high hockey IQ gets him to the right place at the right time for opportunities to make opponents pay for a turnover. Additionally, his defensive prowess helps him create those turnovers.
I believe there’s a chance he’ll continue to develop his offensive game even further. In the meantime, he’ll continue to be thrown onto the ice when coach Sheldon Keefe needs a shutdown in his own team’s defensive zone. His defense has not diminished.
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Recently, I saw one hockey writer before the trade deadline wonder where Kampf might land in a trade. Logic tells me that there’s no way the Maple Leafs will trade this productive player. I believe will be an important player for the Maple Leafs far into the future.
Calle Jarnkrok’s Versatility Is His Contribution to the Maple Leafs
Last July, when the Maple Leafs signed Jarnkrok to a four-year contract, many fans and hockey writers were surprised. It was hard not to recognize and even appreciate Jarnkrok’s solid career as a depth forward with the Nashville Predators. In fact, over his last six seasons with the Predators, Jarnkrok had averaged just under 15 goals per season.
However, Jarnkrok was now over 30 years of age. In addition, Nashville had exposed him in the expansion draft. He was picked up by the Seattle Kraken, who moved him to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline. During his 17 games with the Flames, Jarnkrok didn’t score a goal and only added four assists. Then, in last season’s playoffs, he only scored once and three assists in 12 games.
Why would the Maple Leafs sign a has-been like Jarnkrok to a four-year $8.4 million contract with a salary-cap hit of $2.1 million?
It turned out that Jarnkrok was far from a has-been. He’s been a smart pickup for the Maple Leafs despite all that initial skepticism about his age and production.
This season, he’s already scored 14 goals. He’s on pace to surpass his career-high of 16 goals. In addition, Jarnkrok brings the kind of versatility to the team that allows the coaching staff to play him anywhere without so much as a blink.
Can Jarnkrok play in the bottom six? No problem. He’ll give the team honest, blue-collar hockey with few glaring errors. Top six? He’ll keep up with play without looking out of place and even add secondary scoring.
He also remains solid defensively, which has made him a valuable player on this Maple Leafs’ team. Given his ability to play multiple positions and his production wherever he’s been placed this season, Jarnkrok has been a solid addition to the team.
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While next season isn’t yet on many people’s radar, given Alex Kerfoot’s expiring contract, could Jarnkrok be a future replacement for Kerfoot at a lower cost? It will be interesting to see how Jarnkrok continues to perform and contribute to the Maple Leafs’ success in the future.
Showing Some Appreciation for the Underappreciated
In my time covering the Maple Leafs, I’ve been impressed with the elite players on the team – and there are several. However, some of my favorite players on this team are those who seem to toil under the radar.
Kampf and Jarnkrok are two of those players. In this post, I’ve tried to highlight their contributions to the Maple Leafs.
Maybe next time I’ll add defenseman Justin Holl to the list. That might generate some feedback.