Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said Thursday that center David Kampf has handled probably the hardest matchups of any Hawks forward this season.
Then he corrected himself.
“Not probably,” he said. “Definitely.”
He’s right. Kampf has, without a doubt, been given the most high-pressure defensive assignments on the team.
He has started 37.8% of his shifts in the defensive zone, the highest rate of any Hawks player, and only 17.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone, the second-lowest rate.
And the list of players he has been matched against the most looks like a Central Division all-star team.
Lightning stars Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Anthony Cirelli are the three forwards Kampf has played against the most, followed by Joe Pavelski of the Stars, Jack Roslovic of the Blue Jackets and Dylan Larkin of the Red Wings. The top three defensemen are no less than the Jackets’ Seth Jones, the Predators’ Roman Josi and the Stars’ John Klingberg.
Despite constantly finding himself in situations where it’s difficult to succeed, Kampf ranks second-best among regular Hawks forwards in goals allowed, third-best in shot attempts allowed and fourth-best in scoring chances allowed per minute at even strength. He also leads Hawks forwards in short-handed ice time.
His positioning, stick use, consistency and underrated faceoff ability — he has won 55.8% of his even-strength draws, best among the regular remaining Hawks centers by almost 10 percentage points — make him invaluable defensively.
“He comes out on the right end of [his tough matchups] in chances and goals,” Colliton said. “That’s a guy you like to have as an option. We’ve moved him around based on injuries and performance, but he’s at his best probably where he is right now, and he really solidifies things for us.”
Yet, the 26-year-old Czech is easily overlooked — arguably invisible — in all other aspects. He’s a naturally quiet guy and not fully comfortable with English, so he hasn’t made any general media appearances this season.
And offensively, he contributes almost nothing. Among 367 eligible forwards league-wide, Kampf ranks 334th and 336th in individual shot attempts and scoring chances per minute, respectively.
He became just the second forward in Hawks history to appear in 45 consecutive games to start a season without scoring a goal. He also came within a few weeks of becoming the fourth forward in franchise history to score zero goals in a full season (minimum 45 appearances), avoiding that distinction by finally hitting the net Monday night against the Predators.
“I’m sure it was weighing on him,” Colliton said. “It’s always nice when you do chip in, and, for his confidence, it’ll give him a lift. You don’t like seeing that number [zero] on the board. But whether he scores or not, he’s helping us.”
Despite doing what he does quite well, Kampf has a somewhat negative reputation among fans for failing to deliver when he’s occasionally inserted as a first- or second-line center — something Colliton has done sometimes out of necessity and sometimes inexplicably. That’s why Colliton said Kampf is best “where he is right now,” centering the fourth line.
Kampf’s future with the Hawks is also uncertain. The acquisition of Henrik Borgstrom’s rights at the trade deadline likely bumped Kampf out of a protected spot for this summer’s NHL expansion draft, and he could be on the Kraken’s radar. The Hawks lightly shopped Kampf at the deadline but decided to keep him after trading Carl Soderberg instead.
For at least the stretch run of this season, however, the Hawks will continue to quietly rely on Kampf to carry them through many of their toughest shifts.
“He’s a hard worker,” fellow center Pius Suter said Thursday. “He does a great job on those faceoffs. He’s playing really solid ‘D.’ And you can always count on him to do the right things.”