Jack Campbell had a tangential relationship to the LA Kings long before a 2016 trade that officially brought him into the franchise. Now, after a lengthy and twist-filled road, the goaltender is achieving his first real taste of NHL success this season; culminating with a nomination for the Masterton Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) Los Angeles Chapter.
Earlier this month, PHWA members were asked to select three nominees from the Kings. It was noted during the voting process, candidates for this award should be selected based upon their “qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” After tallying up all votes from ballots submitted by local PHWA members, it was determined Campbell was the winner of this year’s LA nomination.
To date, he has appeared in 27 games with the Kings this season, posting an 8-13-1 record. More impressive have been the two key stats often used to measure goaltender his performance, his .925 save percentage and 2.32 goals against average.
The Campbell-Kings connection first began at the NHL Draft in 2010. Hosted by the Kings, at Staples Center, the Michigan native was selected No. 11 overall by Dallas, becoming the first goalie taken that year and the earliest goalie to be selected in the first round since the Kings snatched Jonathan Bernier back in 2006 with the 11th overall pick.
Coming into that year’s NHL Draft, Campbell had been playing with the U.S. National Under-18 Team, where he was teammates with a trip of future Kings draft picks – Derek Forbort, Michael Mersch, and Nick Shore. Then, just a few months following the Draft, Campbell began playing for former Kings winger Warren Rychel and his Windsor Spitfires of the OHL.
Even before he arrived in Windsor, Campbell was coming to town with three junior hockey championships under his belt: the 2009 and 2010 World Under-18 tournaments, and the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championship. Prior to even playing his first game there, Rychel had already called Campbell, “the best goaltender in the world not playing in the NHL.”
Two years later – following a season with the Soo Greyhounds, where he joined Kings prospects Michael Schumacher and Colin Miller – Campbell turned pro. Dallas sent him to their AHL affiliate in Austin, Texas. His coach was Willie Desjardins. They eventually won a championship together (2014 Calder Cup).
This is all typical progression for an NHL prospect. Things are developing just nicely for Campbell, right?
He spent parts of the next two seasons in the ECHL.
Some even thought he was washed up and another NHL first round bust at the time it was announced the Kings acquired him for defenseman Nick Ebert in June 2016. Ebert had been the last player taken at the 2012 NHL Draft; as in selection 212 overall. That’s at the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to Campbell going 11 picks into the first round when was taken by the Stars.
Yes, Campbell hasn't lived up RD1 billing. However, LA Kings have been a goaltending factory and have A+ development staff. Will fix him.
— The Mayor John Hoven (@mayorNHL) June 25, 2016
What went so wrong and how did we get here?
“When Jack arrived [in AHL Ontario], he looked like a guy that had been beaten up a little,” Reign coach Mike Stothers told us, while reflecting on the goaltender’s past few seasons. “Not by an individual, or the previous organization, but because of the lack of results, and trying to live up to the lofty expectations of a high pick.”
In typical Stothers fashion, it didn’t take him long to assess what he had to work with.
“The first thing you notice is how great a person he is, so genuine. His work ethic and determination was evident immediately. Also, in practice, he tries to stop every puck, never gives up on a rebound. In games, he always takes responsibility for a puck that gets by him. Never faults a teammate. He was, and is, extremely popular with his teammates and the coaching staff. The sport of hockey is very fortunate to have a Jack Campbell in it. I’m very honored to have coached him.”
Similar sentiments were shared by both of the Kings goaltending experts.
“What Soupy has done is very special,” remarked Dusty Imoo, when we first told him told about Campbell’s Masterton Trophy nomination. “I’m not talking about just what he has done on the ice. He changed his life right around. He learned to like himself, regardless of his accomplishments. Then he learned to remember why he plays the game… ‘cause he loves it. The rest just followed to what you see now.”
After really only one full season with the Reign, Campbell suited up for 26 AHL games in the first half of last year. The Kings had seen enough; they traded away Darcy Kuemper to create a spot for him in the NHL. Campbell spent the remainder of the campaign as a backup in Los Angeles, recording a 2-0-2 record in five appearances, along with a .924 save percentage.
Originally slotted to become a full-time backup to Jonathan Quick this season, things haven’t exactly gone as planned. In mid-November, he tore his meniscus, requiring surgery and a recovery time of almost two months. As he’s become accustomed to doing, though, Campbell simply battled back and rose to the occasion. Then, in a case of almost perfect timing, he went out earlier this week and put up perhaps his best performance of the season. Ironically, this came just a few days after the PHWA ballots had to be submitted.
“I think it’s been an impressive growth, from start to finish, since Jack joined our organization,” Bill Ranford added. “Coming off of working with Dallas — being a first round pick and all the expectations that come with that – he came to LA and really focused on becoming a better goalie by realizing he had it within himself. With a lot of hard work and effort, he was able to find his game and become the goalie everybody thought he was going to be. He’s been a great teammate, both with the Reign and Kings. The thing that’s been so impressive is he put the work in. He became an All Star and one of the best goalies in the AHL, and then worked his way up to the Kings. He’s done an excellent job for us. His perseverance has been incredible and his dedication to turning his career around is a big part of why he’s been nominated for this great award.”
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