Chicago Blackhawks 2018-19 Season Player Grades: David Kampf
By Stephen Yatsushiro
David Kampf was a highly sought-after free agent forward from the Czech Republic in 2017. He decided upon the Chicago Blackhawks. Now, as a restricted free agent, the ‘Hawks will have to decide what to do with him.
David Kampf established himself as a standout player in Czech U16-20 leagues. He scored more than a point per game from 2010 through 2014, and solid performances in international junior tournaments in 2016 and 2017 caught the eye of NHL scouts. When the Chicago Blackhawks came calling in 2017, Kampf saw a team with a shortage of forwards and signed a 2-year deal.
Kampf wasn’t expected to be a flashy scoring forward, but with his size at 6’2″ and 192 pounds, he could provide some depth down the middle as a bottom-six center. We looked at this two years ago and wrote about his signing.
In his two seasons with the ‘Hawks, Kampf has played in 109 games, scoring 8 goals, 22 assists, 30 points, with a rating of minus-15. These stats certainly don’t impress. This season, in 63 games, he scored 4 goals, 15 assists, 19 points, with a rating of minus-6. His entry-level contract paid him $925,000 per season. At first glance, he would seem an unlikely candidate to return next season.
Not so fast, Kowalski!
What David Kampf brings to the rink is not immediately measurable. Kampf is really the only other center besides Jonathan Toews who plays the strong defensive game. (Sorry, but Marcus Kruger is not the Kruger of old any longer.) His ability to forecheck and play aggressively on the penalty kill are aspects that don’t show up on the scoresheet. What we have to look at is the effect his presence, or lack thereof, has on the team’s overall performance.
After the in-season coaching change from Joel Quenneville to Jeremy Colliton, the ‘Hawks looked to be a team headed for the league’s bottom spot, but then, something happened. Colliton brought in a new defensive scheme and found David Kampf to be a reliable option in defensive zone starts. As Colliton’s methods began to gain traction with the team, the ‘Hawks started turning their season around. Our Juliana Nikac examined this phenomenon in her article.
While the ‘Hawks weren’t going to go on and win the Cup with this better effort, Colliton’s reliance on Kampf defined what he was looking for. As Jonathan Toews found a resurgence in his offensive game due to being allowed to be a playmaking center, his offensive freedom was owed to Kampf’s ascendance in the shutdown role.
With or Without You
The 13-6-4 run that Juliana Nikac wrote about coincided with Colliton’s use of Kampf in tough matchups. When Kampf went down with an injury, the ‘Hawks went 7-6 during his 13-game absence. When he returned to action on March 7th, the ‘Hawks went 9-4-2 to finish out their season. Coincidence?
Let’s take a look at two games against the same opponent, with and without Kampf. On March 3rd, the ‘Hawks lost 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks while Kampf sat out with his injury. On March 28th, the ‘Hawks defeated the same Sharks 5-4 with Kampf back in the lineup. Let’s look at some of the deployments from the two games.
In the March 3rd game, none of the oddly-configured lines were able to contain the Sharks’ offense. The bottom-six definitely were not in shut-down mode as they went up against the Sharks’ bottom-six forwards.
Without Kampf in the lineup, the top line centered by Toews was sent out against the Sharks’ top-six and went a collective minus-3. There’s a lot of red from the Blackhawks’ bottom-six against just about everyone they were matched up against.
In the March 28th game against the Sharks, a checking line of Kruger-Kampf-Chris Kunitz pulled off a plus-1 performance.
In their matchups, the ‘Hawks’ third line centered by Kampf shows mostly blue, meaning they controlled the play, as measured in shots.
It is this type of defensive effort that defines what David Kampf brings to the rink. If we look at his season individually, here are the stark realities. Look at the major difference in the heat map of how much high-danger offense opponents inflict, with Kampf on and off the ice. Kampf’s presence keeps shooters out of the home plate area in a big way.
When you line up his zone starts with shots for/against and goals for/against, you can see that he is tilting the ice away from his own zone in an impressive manner.
While David Kampf hasn’t ramped up his offensive game yet, his defensive presence has a trickle down effect. By playing the role of shutdown center, he allows centers Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome to concentrate on offense against lower quality of competition.
The fact that the ‘Hawks went 9-4-2 when he returned says a lot. A 9-4-2 record over a season translates to a 49-win season, good for at least 98 points. While it’s dangerous to project out wins from a small base, you still get the picture that Kampf’s defensive presence works well in the bottom-six.
I give Kampf a C+ for the season. He’s a good skater, defends well with his angles and stick placement, and has a high motor. He’s shown flashes of offensive ability which could develop into something of a threat. I hope they bring him back next season to ramp up his role as their shutdown center.