The Toronto Maple Leafs have continued adding depth players via the free-agent market, this time signing forwards Kurtis Gabriel and David Kampf to one and two-year contracts, respectively.
Kampf is the more notable addition of the two, as evidenced by his two-year deal worth $1.5 million per season. With the Blackhawks changing up their supporting-cast mix up front this offseason — adding Tyler Johnson and Jujhar Khaira, retaining Adam Gaudette — Kampf went unqualified as an arbitration-eligible RFA coming off of a season in which he served as a defensive role player down the middle for the Hawks and played a career-high 14:40 per night.
26 years old and able to play center or wing, the Czech forward isn’t much of a point producer. So far in his career, he has recorded 58 points in 235 career games, including 12 points (one goal) in 56 games last season.
Kampf will be added to a group of decent checkers who struggle to score on this Leafs team (Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev, most notably). The Leafs were frustrated with Engvall as a faceoff man, and so now they sign Kampf, who led the Blackhawks in faceoffs taken and won 52.8% of them. He also led all Blackhawks forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game, although it should be noted that the Blackhawks ranked 28th in penalty killing last season. Kampf will help replace the penalty-killing minutes Hyman filled for the Leafs.
As stated, there isn’t much offensive upside to this signing. Kampf started nearly 67% of his non-neutral zone faceoffs in the defensive zone at 5v5 and played primarily with Brandon Hagel and Ryan Carpenter on a line that treaded above water (50%) in shot share despite getting buried in defensive responsibilities.
The Leafs management group appears to like Engvall and his speed, but they have been actively looking to push him to wing, including having Alex Kerfoot center him at times (the team also acquired Riley Nash at the trade deadline). The addition means that the Leafs at least have the option now to have Kampf center a bottom-six checking unit — possibly with Engvall — allowing Sheldon Keefe to feel more confident putting them out for defensive-zone faceoffs with a credible draw taker anchoring the line.
While none of these players are particularly physical, for what it’s worth, a checking line of Engvall, Kampf, and Ilya Mikheyev would stand 6’5, 6’2, and 6’3, respectively.
Kampf is not a flashy signing by any means, but he’s an NHL center that might be able to help the Leafs create the checking line that they’ve been trying to make happen for over a year now.
The team’s other addition, Kurtis Gabriel, is 28 years old and has played 49 games in the NHL, most notably racking up 153 penalty minutes in that time. He is the classic character enforcer, with a lengthy fight card on HockeyFights.com. Most notably, this past season, he dropped the gloves for a spirited bout with Ryan Reaves.
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Last season, the Leafs dressed Scott Sabourin in a game, and the Marlies traditionally employed an enforcer or two under Kyle Dubas. This isn’t exactly uncharted territory, even if Gabriel is just here to be a 13th forward (or Marlie) and fight once in a while.