As I wrote previously, Minnesota has invited 2012 7th overall pick Mathew Dumba to their six day training camp. Minnesota currently has six defensemen in camp with as many as one, maybe two additional spots open on defense due to injuries. While Marco Scandella and 2011 10th overall pick Jonas Brodin may not be far away from making a return, Minnesota needs to add one or two solid options now before the rigors of 48 games in 99 days begins. Think Dumba is the solution? Not so fast, in addition to signing veteran NHL defenseman Paul Mara to an AHL contract, Minnesota has also called up Steven Kampfer from Houston.
Kampfer, acquired in the trade that saw Greg Zanon shipped up to Boston (I know, I couldn’t resist), is a very intriguing young offensive defenseman that saw a lot of time on Minnesota’s blue line toward the end of last season. As American born, raised and trained as they come, Kampfer played two seasons in the United States Hockey League with the Sioux City Musketeers before playing all four years of college puck at the University of Michigan. Kampfer then spent three seasons playing professionally between the Providence Bruins, Boston Bruins and the Minnesota Wild. In 61 NHL games, the 24 year old defenseman has posted seven goals and eight assists for 15 points, 18 penalty minutes and a plus-8 rating.
While slightly undersized for a defenseman at 5’11” and 197 pounds, Kampfer hasn’t let that affect his game in the slightest. He’s very sound defensively, is quite mobile and possesses a surprisingly heavy shot with a quick release. Steven is also not afraid to make a big check. He brings a flash and flair to his game that is certainly needed on Minnesota’s blue line. This is part of the reason he was desirable to Minnesota and why he’s been called up to potentially earn a spot.
Where does he fit in the current Wild lineup? Well, barring anything unusual (Dumba playing more than six games), Kampfer would fit quite well alongside Tom Gilbert, Clayton Stoner or Nate Prosser as an interchangeable piece between the second and third pairings. He definitely would help contribute to the offense from the blue line and is not a defensive liability by any means. His shot would certainly be welcome on the Wild’s second power play unit and his style of physicality fits in quite well in Mike Yeo’s system.
Will Steven Kampfer finally establish himself as a fulltime NHL defenseman this season? It’s certainly possible and even likely. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is probably hesitant to throw Dumba and a recovering Brodin into the chaos of a lockout-shortened season right away and Kampfer provides an easy solution. It’s also convenient that Minnesota doesn’t have to trade a contract to sign a defenseman in free agency because he is already signed and Mara is there to take his place in Houston’s lineup.
The fact of the matter is that Minnesota’s defense is in an awkward stage—it’s a pimple-faced teenager, if you will; it’s not done maturing. You’ve got great veterans in Ryan Suter and Gilbert, promising young defensemen in Scandella and Jared Spurgeon, grit in Stoner, Prosser and Justin Falk, elite incoming talent in Brodin and Dumba, depth defensemen in Kampfer, Tyler Cuma, Brian Connelly and Chay Genoway down in Houston and intriguing prospects like John Draeger and Nick Seeler in college. All the pieces are there (plus extras); the puzzle just hasn’t quite been put together yet and may not be for a while. How the puzzle looks when it’s finally put together is up to the Minnesota brass, but Wild fans can rest assured that they know what they’re doing; just keep the faith and enjoy the ride.