BOSTON – The AHL All-Star Game? Are you kidding me?
The only way Steven Kampfer should be near Hershey again in the near future is if he decides to spend some of his NHL salary on a chocolate-eating binge this summer.
From Day One in Boston black and gold, the rookie defenseman has not only looked like he belongs but brought a dynamic – a combination of playmaking, poise and ice vision – that Boston lacked when it broke training camp … in 2009.
Kampfer has not been told to find a permanent home in Boston yet. But that chat with Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien has to be right around the corner.
Showing he’s still as humble as he is an offensive threat from Boston’s back line, Kampfer replied to an off-hand comment about where he’s going to live in the Hub by saying:
“I’ve got to keep working for that.”
That trip to the AHL All-Star Game he received earlier this week should be nothing more than a paper honor. He should send back his RSVP with the “decline box” checked as soon as he can. I consider the game-winning goal Kampfer scored with 1:14 left in the third period the job-clincher for the 22-year-old. Showing he has a flair for the dramatic, Kampfer pinched down the wall and rifled a shot from the far right hash mark past goaltender Brian Boucher inside the far post.
“You know, I saw the guy [Flyers defenseman Matt Carle] rimming the puck around the wall there. I had a jump on the guy, the forward up on the red line, so I just jumped in, I just tried to get a shot on net, and I was fortunate enough to beat him far-side high,” said Kampfer after the game.
Kampfer said he considered tonight’s goal tied with his first NHL tally as the biggest goal of his life. Considering he scored all of seven goals in four years at the University of Michigan, there aren’t many big scores at a high level to choose from. Maybe that’s one of the reasons a little less than a year ago the Anaheim Ducks gave up on Kampfer and traded him to the Bruins for a fourth-round pick.
Never considered a hot prospect in the Ducks’ organization by The Hockey News or any scouting outlets, Kampfer was told last winter there were too many guys ahead of him on the organizational depth chart. Obviously, the team that’s trying to rebuild its back end in the aftermath of the retirement of Scott Niedermayer and its trade of Chris Pronger has some amazing defensemen in its pipeline to let go of a player that can make such an impact at the NHL level a mere half a year after he left college.
Now, mind you, even Kampfer says he never expected to make the jump so quickly. He said tonight it didn’t dawn on him the start of his NHL career could be so close until he was one of the last cuts in training camp before the Bruins left for Europe.
That impression Kampfer made on the Bruins carried over during his stint with the Providence (AHL) fan club and he earned the first call up from the minors among backliners when Mark Stuart was injured. Now he’s making the Bruins’ roster and lineup decisions even more difficult once Stuart, who skated with his teammates for the first time since he suffered his hand injury five weeks ago, is ready to return.
“When we had him here at training camp, we thought he moved the puck extremely well. I obviously didn’t see him carry the puck as much as he does now, but that’s probably from gaining some confidence in Providence and coming here and knowing that he’s got the green light to carry the puck,” said Julien. “He’s a good skater and he does a great job. I think he’s been a great addition for our hockey club because we really lacked that early on in the year and he’s come in and provided us with some of that.”
Just to prove he’s not a one-dimensional D-man, the generously 5-foot-11, 197-pound Kampfer threw his weight around as well. He inspired a giant cheer from the Garden faithful by leveling the bulky Scott Hartnell at the Boston blue line on a rush midway through the third period. Later in the shift, Kampfer hammered Ville Leino as a follow-up.
“Everyone talks about [how] you’ve gotta have an edge to your game,” said the rookie. “I’m not gonna lie, I was a little mad that we had the lead at the beginning of the third and we gave it right back. So, I think … personally, I thought something needed to change. And, when I saw Hartnell coming down with his head down there, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to step up and put a hit on him, and try and get this crowd back in the game.”
Every night it seems Kampfer exhibits more and more of his untapped potential. With 39 games left in the NHL season and the Bruins in the midst of a dog fight for a playoff spot and positioning, it’d be a shame if any of those impressive passes, clutch goals or puck-carrier-flipping hits occurred in the Ocean State.
The Bruins need to keep Kampfer, make him a full-time Boston resident and deny the folks in Hershey a chance to see him strut his stuff among the best of the AHL.