Just because David Kämpf isn’t a household name among Toronto Maple Leafs fans, doesn’t mean he can’t turn into one. While it’s safe to assume he won’t attract the same type of spotlight as fellow centremen John Tavares and Auston Matthews, Kämpf could become a more important addition than many realize.
It’s one thing to assess this acquisition on the surface, in that the Maple Leafs signed a 26-year-old free agent to a low-risk deal in hopes of furthering their depth down the middle for a mere $1.5 million per season. Yet, he brings more to the table than his 12 points through 2020-21 with the Chicago Blackhawks might suggest.
What He’s Done to Date
After a number of years of playing professional hockey overseas in the Czech Republic, an undrafted Kämpf signed with the Blackhawks in May 2017. Over the past four seasons with Chicago, he was mainly utilized as a bottom-six option. While his production totals align accordingly, having earned only 17 goals and 41 assists in that span, that doesn’t tell the full story.
First and foremost, Kämpf joined a Blackhawks organization that had already begun to descend from its peak, as evidenced by the fact that the franchise failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons during his rookie year of 2017-18. They’d go on to miss the postseason in 2019, lose in the First Round of 2020, then watch from the sidelines again in 2021.
Simply stated, it’s not as though success in Chicago was as free-flowing as it had been leading up to Kämpf’s arrival. Combine that with his under 14:00 of average ice time throughout his four years there and it becomes easier to justify his lacklustre stat line.
Yet, when you dig beyond just goals and assists, Kämpf’s capabilities are highlighted in all the right ways. Especially when you consider what he was able to accomplish as a depth centreman on a struggling squad.
Giving Credit Where It’s Due
When reflecting upon a team’s ability to reshape their identity, it’s especially relevant to give credit to those who managed their workloads more effectively than the rest. Ultimately, they are the ones responsible for any progress that pushed things forward, while others were kept busy covering up their blemishes.
Kämpf’s contributions as a Blackhawk are a prime example of this. His impact pulled Chicago closer towards success in a multitude of ways, so it makes sense to have seen him looked to during the moments that mattered most.
In this role, Kampf is expected to shut down the opponent’s top lines. It’s his job to be hard to play against, as well as tilt the ice in a positive direction for the line that replaces him at the end of his shift. These are difficult things to do, and it’s easy to take for granted all the little things Kampf does well.
In each of his four seasons with the Blackhawks, Kämpf’s faceoff win percentage (FO%) had him among the best on the team. In fact, through 2020-21, not only were the 777 faceoffs he took the most by anyone on Chicago’s roster but his FO% of 52.8 also led the active lineup. It was also higher than Matthews’ mark of 51.9.
However, if you choose to focus solely on his Corsi for percentage (CF%) over those same years then things could appear a little deceiving. His resume shows a CF% of 51.6 in 2017-18, 48.6 in 2018-19, 47.4 in 2019-20, and 47.5 in 2020-21. Those may not seem like numbers that suggest dominant possession, yet there’s only so much an individual player should be held accountable for when it comes to the club’s overall output.
Simply stated, Kämpf was clearly doing his part in winning draws with greater frequency than those he shared a bench with. He achieved his main objective of directing the puck towards his teammates more often than not. Those who controlled play from that point forward, however, just didn’t do enough with the opportunities Kämpf granted them.
As such, his metrics to date do not do his capabilities justice. An uplift in the quality of talent around him in Toronto will certainly work to both his and his new team’s advantage.
Kämpf’s Bonus Benefits
Although maintaining one of the best FO% on your roster at regular strength is an advantage in and of itself, elevating that effectiveness while enhancing any type of advantage makes it a much more coveted trait.
When it comes to special teams, the side with an extra player is obviously set up to score. If they have the puck, that is. With faceoff success a pre-requisite to possession, Kämpf’s collective power play FO% of over 65.0 means he’s risen to the occasion when called upon.
For a team that found it difficult to convert consistently with the advantage last season, Toronto gaining any type of edge that promotes progress in that regard is a step in the right direction.
Add in that Kämpf played over 465 minutes of shorthanded hockey, through his 235 games with the Blackhawks, and the Maple Leafs are also immediately improved when it comes to reliable options while down a man.
Kämpf’s ability to perform under either type of pressure could prove to be a valuable piece that the Maple Leafs have been missing these past few years.
Finding a Fit in Toronto
With all of that in mind, Kämpf will still fulfill a bottom-six role in Toronto just like he did in Chicago. The major difference being his supporting cast, as the Maple Leafs are currently closer to concluding a storyline of success than the Blackhawks were during Kämpf’s tenure with his previous club.
Knowing he wins more draws than he loses will allow Sheldon Keefe and company to leverage Kämpf as a suitable option for those key faceoffs that will then see high-end talent lined up beside him. That, in and of itself, can help bolster his personal results in a multitude of ways.
Kämpf also provides an immediate solution to any lack of shorthanded experience, which adds a level of confidence and comfort that’s difficult to replicate in such scenarios. Plus, while he may not end up being as relied upon on the power play, the fact that he is serviceable with any such opportunity is added value that shouldn’t be overlooked.
As such, Toronto fans can expect much of the same in terms of what he did well in Chicago. However, a bonus will be the increase of effectiveness in the areas directly influenced by playing in a more skillful system. Whether that results in higher point totals, better possession metrics, or simply a greater overall impact, Kämpf is poised to reach new heights with his recent relocation.
Winning that necessary faceoff, managing a timely penalty kill, and stepping in when the stars sit out aren’t the types of plays that make it into a highlight reel. Yet, it’s the culmination of those important in-game moments that differentiate the teams hoping to reach success from those that are already enjoying it.
He may only seem like a depth addition at the moment, but don’t be surprised if Kämpf quickly earns a reputation as a player that matters during this next chapter in Maple Leafs’ history.
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