That he opened training camp reprising a familiar combination alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown seemed natural for someone who was courted quickly in advance of free agency as someone who could add needed skill to the forward group.
And Cammalleri has largely provided that, totaling four goals, seven points and a plus-four rating in 11 games. The unexpected? He’s drawing difficult assignments with a clear slant to the defensive zone, and is thriving in them. His 47.1% ZSO-Rel depicts the fifth-highest inclination to start shifts in the defensive zone among team forwards. His 22.9 defensive zone draws per 60 minutes ranks fifth on the team, while the 11.2 high-danger chances yielded per 60 minutes ranks sixth among club forwards. With an on-ice save percentage of .967, he ranks second among qualified forwards. (Stats via Natural Stat Trick)
Some of these rankings may seem modest, but he’s still much more closely aligned to the forwards most equipped to start shifts in the defensive zone, such as Nick Shore, Trevor Lewis, Brooks Laich and Anze Kopitar, than he is to those who are more inclined to start shifts on the other side of the ice. For a team with an established defensive and checking identity such as Los Angeles, that’s saying something.
“I think I’ve always played in those situations on most teams I’ve been on. It just depends on the makeup of your team—who’s healthy, who’s not. Who’s playing well, who’s not,” Cammalleri said. “I feel comfortable playing in any situation.”
Right now, he’s skating alongside Lewis and Shore. The eye test sends a better impression than the spreadsheets, which say that over the eight games in which that line has taken shifts together, the trio has a collective 36.1% raw five-on-five Corsi-for rate. Cammalleri has been on the ice for seven goals in five-on-five play, five of which were scored when he skated alongside Adrian Kempe and Trevor Lewis.
But the assignments depict a player whose performance is very much in line with the “team game” Stevens had associated with the team’s early season success. He’s not the same 39-goal scorer he was when he was 26, but when he’s playing his game, it seems to be weighted more in his ability to adapt situationally and adhere to the type of role needed and expected of him. Is that at all similar to Mike Richards taking on a more checking-centric role later in his tenure with Los Angeles?
“I don’t know if I’d compare those two guys in a similar sense, but Mike’s always been a scoring player and he’s a veteran guy that’s got lots of experience playing for different teams, different styles and different coaches, and I think he’s done a really good job of adapting his game how to play with what the team asked him to do, but at the same time can play to his strengths, and I think he’s done a good job of that,” Stevens said. “The other night we had a couple goals that were direct results of his defensive play, and then when he gets around the net he’s a very opportunistic scorer. I think when you have a veteran guy that has a lot of confidence in his abilities like that, it really helps your lineup.”
In essence, in listening to Stevens, Cammalleri is a representation of the team’s belief that offense is derived from strong checking. When he didn’t play in two games late in the last home stand, Stevens spoke about wanting the forward to generate more offensive zone time by virtue of his tenacity on the puck and “execution in the first two zones to get there.”
Since rejoining the lineup, Cammalleri has posted seven points in eight games, with four of those points coming in the 5-1 win over Montreal on October 18. His usage has ranged between 14 and a half minutes to just over 17 minutes over his last five. Six of his seven points have come at home.
“They have so much data now and analytics that they produce that they can determine what thing think their best probabilities are and how to play certain guys and how to get certain minutes,” he said. “You know, you’ve got to watch Kopi and guys like that. They want to manage their minutes. So, all of that plays into their decision-making and you just want to be a guy who does his job when he’s out there. If that means being great in your own end? Great. If that means being dangerous offensively? Great.”
Was that defensive element an aspect of his skill set that had been understated through a career that wasn’t short of any sort of scouting or game planning?
“I just think today’s game doesn’t allow for players that don’t compete 200 feet, and I think Cammy’s done a good job of understanding what’s expected in terms of a team player without the puck. I think he’s done a really good job of that,” Stevens said. “Obviously on the road, you’re going to get match-ups on the road that other teams want. He’s going to have to play against top-end guys, and I think he’s made good adjustments in his game to be a real responsible player.”
Michael Cammalleri, on whether he pays close attention to analytics and more advanced stats:
I don’t follow it closely I guess you would say, but I have an awareness of it. I think everybody does now. The coaches talk about it and I think that’s their challenge is first how to process the information that’s expected for them. And then second, how much of that information do they want us to have because there’s a fine line between players having the information that helps them, but then just playing the game in an instinctive way. So, they manage all of that. So, I’m just being a player.
-Lead photo via Francois Lacasse/NHLIIf there is any universal, outside impression of Michael Cammalleri, it’s probably centered around his ability to bury the puck. His 39 goals in Calgary in 2008-09 and the 93 he scored over 283 games in Los Angeles between 2002 and 2008 have helped to construct an identity of a high-intelligence and versatile forward who has a nose for the net.