One of Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas’ under-the-radar acquisitions this offseason was 26-year-old Czech centre David Kampf. Kampf was signed after a four-year stint with the Chicago Blackhawks as a UFA to a two-year, $1.5 million per season contract.
So Just Who Is David Kampf? What Does He Bring to the Team?
Let’s start with the two most obvious questions. Just “Who is David Kampf?” and “What does he bring to the Maple Leafs?”
The most common opinion is that Kampf was brought in strictly for his defensive intangibles. In our previous speculations, we’ve written that Nick Ritchie potentially works to replace Zach Hyman’s physicality on one of the top forward lines (our thoughts are with center Auston Matthews and right-winger Mitch Marner) and hopefully replaces at least some of Hyman’s offensive numbers at even strength.
At the same time, we believed that Kampf’s purpose would be to handle Hyman’s defensive tasks, more specifically to take his place on the penalty-killing unit. He’s also had great face-off success. Thus, it isn’t as if the Maple Leafs are relying on a single player who’d be replacing Hyman, it would be at least two – and perhaps three with the addition of Michael Bunting.
The Blackhawks Used Kampf as a Defensive Specialist
The Blackhawks used Kampf as a defensive specialist over the past three seasons. If we look at his zone starts during those three seasons, in each of those seasons his defensive zone starts accounted for 69.9%, 67.3%, and 75.5% respectively.
Over the same time period, Kampf also averaged over two minutes each game on the penalty kill.
Is There More to Kampf than We Can See?
There’s no doubt that Kampf’s defensive duties are extremely important. In fact, if he were only brought in to replace Hyman’s defense, that would be a good idea. Still, we wondered if defense were the sole reason for signing Kampf. Is there more to him than meets the eye? Could he be one of those hidden gems that Dubas seems to always be searching for? Does he have other intangibles?
In reading other sources, most do little digging past Kampf’s 2020-21 season, where he scored a single goal and added 11 assists (for 12 points) in 56 games. Really, that’s not much – a two-goal, 18-point pace over 82 games. Defenseman Cody Ceci scored a goal and seven assists over a similar 56 games for the Maple Leafs during the 2019-20 season, and fans wanted to run him out of town. Obviously, Ceci was seen to have defensive issues as well. Still, the point is that on the face of it Kampf doesn’t seem to bring much offense.
However, most sources didn’t track much further into Kampf’s past. During the previous 2019-20 season, he scored eight goals and eight assists (for 16 points) in 70 games. That works out to nine goals and nine assists (for 18 points) over 82 games. The two previous seasons are much the same. He scored eight goals and 22 assists (for 30 points) in 109 games. That’s six goals and 23 points over an 82-game NHL schedule.
If we see Kampf’s last season as an outlier, his offensive production for the rest of his 179-game career has averaged six goals and 21 points per 82-game season. Obviously, he’s no offensive juggernaut; however, he’s much more prolific than his one goal and 12 points last season.
Kampf’s Play Prior to the NHL
All comparisons are contextual. For example, Kampf was a particular kind of player in Chicago. In some ways, he’ll be different in Toronto. Teammates, offensive philosophies, and coaching staff expect different things from players. Hence, speculating how Kampf will do in Toronto is just that – speculation.
His defensive play earned him a living with the Blackhawks, and it’s likely to do the same with the Maple Leafs. At the same time, playing in Europe – even considering league by league – differs from playing in the NHL. That’s why stellar KHL defenseman Mikko Lehtonen struggled both with the Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. However, Kampf had a history prior to landing with the Blackhawks.
Related: Today in Hockey History: Sept. 3
Although it might not seem as relevant, going further into Kampf’s past shows some offensive ability. In the Czech Under-16 league, he scored 17 goals and 22 assists (for 39 points) in 34 games one season. In the Czech Under-18 league, Kampf scored 30 goals and 42 assists (for 72 points) in 56 games over two seasons. During his last season in the Czech adult league, he scored 15 goals and 16 assists (for 31 points) in 52 games. So he has scored.
There’s Value in Kampf’s Game, One Side of the Ice or Another
The Blackhawks signed Kampf as a free agent to an entry-level contract in 2017. He started that season with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, scoring seven goals and 11 assists (for 18 points) in 33 games. There must have been something the Blackhawks liked, because they called him up to the NHL after those 33 games. He stayed.
The Bottom Line for Kampf on the Maple Leafs’ Roster
Obviously, Maple Leafs’ fans know that, although players show offensive skills in juniors, European leagues, or the AHL, it doesn’t mean those skills will translate into the NHL. When considering his place on this Maple Leafs’ team, we’re pretty sure he’s been brought in more for his defensive prowess than his offensive talent. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of providing secondary offense or a dogged attitude about digging out the puck.
At the very least, our first look suggests that Kampf should be at least a solid fourth-line center for the Maple Leafs. If he’s better, that’s great. The Hockey Writers‘ own Gail Kauchak thinks he’s solid and believes he’ll help a contending team.
If by any chance he turns out to be a complete bust, he’ll be put on waivers. If he isn’t claimed, the Maple Leafs can bury $1.1 million of his $1.5 million salary-cap hit in the AHL. There’s not much downside.
We don’t think he’ll be a bust. In fact, we look forward to watching Kampf’s defensive game in action. We also believe Maple Leafs’ fans will appreciate that addition to the roster.
[Note: Again 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.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
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