Some players don’t fully realize when they are given opportunities in the NHL.
Steven Kampfer isn’t one of them.
After not playing in the NHL since 2012 with Minnesota, Kampfer has taken full advantage of the chance to become one of Florida’s most dependable defensemen since being recalled last month.
As Florida’s defensive core gets healthier, coach Gerard Gallant has some decisions to make. If the Panthers keep seven defensemen, one has to sit.
Kampfer is making a strong case that it shouldn’t be him.
“I don’t know what happened in the years past, don’t know his history, but I can’t believe this guy hasn’t been in the NHL,” said Brian Campbell, who was paired up with Kampfer in Saturday's 4-3 shootout win over the Islanders.
“He’s given us great depth, has proved how good he is. I enjoy playing with him. He moves the puck, is really good. He’s making the decision hard on the coaches. Hopefully we get to keep him around a little longer.”
Kampfer came to Florida as a relative unknown, acquired in a deal with the Rangers after training camp ended.
General manager Dale Tallon, who finalized the deal while hiking up a mountain as part of a team building session at West Point, knew Kampfer from his time in Boston and figured he would be a serviceable defenseman if injuries forced changes.
Turns out, getting Kampfer was a steal.
“I liked him in Boston,” Tallon said. “He’s done a fantastic job since he’s joined us. He’s done great. He’s a great kid, plays with emotion and stays involved. He’s good on both ends of the ice.”
Knee injuries as well as a concussion slowed Kampfer’s progression in the NHL.
The Michigan grad played in 61 games with Boston and Minnesota from 2010-12, but was relegated to the minors the past two-plus seasons.
“I went through a lot of adversity,” Kampfer said. “I needed to get my confidence back.”
After coming to the Panthers, he reported to their minor league team in San Antonio. where his play raised some eyebrows.
Of Florida’s seven defenseman, two (Kampfer and Alex Petrovic) started the season in San Antonio.
Neither want to go back.
“I came here to help the team win and you try to contribute any way you can,”' Kampfer said.
“I'm trying to do what I’m asked to do. I’m definitely trying to earn a contract, but the biggest thing is trying to help this team win. I’m doing everything I can.”
Kampfer has a couple of standout moments with the Panthers in the past six weeks but none, perhaps, bigger than Saturday.
Midway through the third, a puck from a John Tavares shot got around goalie Dan Ellis and was sliding undeterred toward the net.
At the last second, Kampfer swept in and knocked it out of harms way. Had that puck gone in, the final result may have been different.
“I think I was just in the right place at the right time,” said Kampfer, who scored his only goal this year in Florida’s shootout win at Montreal last month.
“You just want to help out and I was fortunate to get back and see the puck rolling toward the goal. We found a way to win and that's huge.”
The Panthers finally have a couple days to breathe as their next game doesn’t come until Thursday.
Gallant plans to have open practices at the team’s Coral Springs IceDen facility on Monday and Wednesday, with an off-ice session Tuesday.
With last Friday’s practice canceled because so many players were sick, the Panthers have had just two full practices in the past weeks.
“We still have a few guys with the flu so this time will help us get healthy,” Gallant said. “The guys have played well so this is a perfect time for the break.”