The Blackhawks’ third line on opening night Oct. 4 appears to be trending toward David Kampf centering Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad.
Coach Jeremy Colliton had high praise for the trio after the Hawks’ preseason victory Wednesday, and although he clarified Thursday the ‘‘combination isn’t set in stone,’’ it appears likely if Alex Nylander and Andrew Shaw stay on track to fill out the top two lines.
Kampf and Kubalik have an off-ice friendship dating to a stint on the same Czech youth team. But other than that chemistry, it’s a difficult mixture to categorize. Kampf has been one of the Hawks’ most defensive forwards the last two seasons, and newcomer Kubalik, with his laser-like one-timer and nose for the net, is more of a power-play specialist. Well-rounded, battle-tested Saad falls somewhere in the middle.
Here’s Colliton’s logic for the seemingly hodgepodge line: ‘‘[Kampf is] a very good transporter of the puck from our end to their end. . . . Both Kubalik and Saad, they can score, [so] let’s get them in the offensive zone.’’
Reviewing the statistics, Colliton is right about Kampf’s efficiency on offensive-zone entries. He’s well above league average in that regard (though so are most of the Hawks).
On the other hand, Kampf often struggles once he is in the offensive zone. He had the third-lowest rate of shot attempts and the fourth-lowest rate of scoring chances among Hawks forwards last season and has scored only eight goals in 109 NHL games.
Those tendencies — strong defense, poor offense — become contagious for his linemates, too. Take Saad, for example. Last season, Saad with Kampf produced 0.88 shot attempts and allowed 0.89 attempts per minute. Saad without Kampf produced one shot attempt and allowed 0.94 attempts per minute.
Those trends are perfectly good for a conservative, penalty-killing center — and that, Kampf is — but slotting him alongside Saad and Kubalik indicates he’ll be expected to take on a bigger role this season. Colliton is optimistic there’s more to Kampf’s offensive game than he has shown.
‘‘There’s a lot of chances he creates for himself and his linemates,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘I would just like the shot selection to be a little better, but we’ve talked about it; he knows it. Make an intelligent shot. You don’t have to go bar-down every time. Whether you create a rebound or consistently hit your spot, you can create some extra goals for yourself.’’
Kampf has received the message.
‘‘For sure, I can be better in my shots,’’ he said Thursday, demonstrating his improved English, too. ‘‘I have so many chances to score, but, I don’t know, I need to work on my shot.’’
Colliton has an explanation for Kampf’s faceoff struggles, too, which appear on paper to be another concern. His faceoff percentage slipped from 53.0 in 2017-18 to 45.3 in 2018-19, but Colliton attributed that to him being forced to take a number of off-handed, right-side draws. The offseason addition of right-handed center Ryan Carpenter will enable the Hawks to use Kampf more exclusively on left-side faceoffs.
There’s clearly a lot riding on Colliton’s vision for Kampf, but he was undeniably solid Wednesday. It’s a good start.
‘‘Ultimately, he can be valuable for us, whether he produces or not,’’ Colliton said.