Is Kämpf the Next Danault?
TOR buys low on a CHI center
During my time working for Kyle Dubas with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a player we discussed at length was Montreal Canadiens forward Philip Danault, one of the best two-way centers in the league.
Kyle and I agreed that he would be an ideal third-line center behind Auston Matthews and John Tavares.
But we also thought it unlikely that a divisional rival would gift us their 1C.
A lot can change in three years.
Kyle’s team goes from promising up-and-comers to almost over-the-hill.
I leave Toronto and move back to Montreal.
Danault goes the other way, signing a long-term deal out west with the L.A. Kings.
As far as I know TOR is never in on Danault, whose 6x$5.5M caphit the team cannot absorb.
So Kyle does the next best thing and signs David Kämpf.
Kämpf, a 26-year-old Czech center, is coming off four low-scoring seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, the same team that drafted Danault before flipping him to MTL for a month of Dale Weise and Tomas Fleishmann. Not a great move, in hindsight.
In July 2021 CHI can retain Kämpf, an RFA coming off a 2x$1M deal, with a modest one-way contract offer. But instead CHI refuses to qualify the player, allowing TOR to sign the now-unrestricted free agent to a 3x$1.5M deal.
I think CHI has erred once more.
In German kampf means “fight.”
The former CHI64 is very much a dogged competitor.
His defining trait as a center is his ability to start from a sound defensive position, above the puck and close to the Ds, and sprint to provide an outlet after a change of possession.
Arriving at the puck ready to battle, the rangy Kämpf wins the puck either by establishing body position early or by using an offensive stick to neutralize his opponent’s instrument.
Though not blessed with high-end vision or hand skills, he has the ability to find the next play, hitting a teammate in stride with a short bump while he extricates himself and sprints to his next assignment.
In short, Philip Danault stuff.
Kämpf is a poor finisher, having not broken double digits in goals since when he was a Czech leaguer in 2016-17.
On breakaways and in-zone grade-A chances he often shows an apallling lack of killing instinct.
I wouldn’t expect that to change on his new team.
Kämpf is at his best when not obliged to put the puck in the net himself.
A dogged retriever and protector like the departed Zach Hyman. He is adept at putting a defenseman on his back and using solid dynamic posture to hold possession, which creates interesting possibilities for his teammates off low cycles.
But in actuality I think Kämpf is neither Danault or Hyman.
And I wouldn’t be happy throwing him onto a pure checking line with the likes of Wayne Simmonds, Pierre Engvall or Ilya Mikheyev.
In Chicago Kämpf has his best moments covering for countryman Dominik Kubalik, a pure sniper whose inconsistencies Kämpf can mitigate.
As the Leafs’ third-line center I’d again be looking to pair him with flaky speed and warted skill. Like the Pittsburgh Penguins do when they align C Nick Bonino with LW Carl Hagelin (one of the fastest, but certainly not smartest players in the NHL) and RW Phil Kessel (whose force and foibles we all know by now).
The HBK Line wins two cups for PIT.
A Kämpf partnership with the likes of Alex Kerfoot, Tomas Tatar (UFA), Jared McCann (SEA), Julien Gauthier (NYR) or some other toolsy underachiever could yield similar dividends.
Trust me on this one, Kyle.