EL SEGUNDO, CA — Back in June 2010, the hottest goaltending prospect was Jack Campbell, who played in major junior hockey in Canada and in the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP).
But almost immediately, things began to go south for the 6-2, 197-pound native of Port Huron, Michigan. Indeed, since he was drafted, Campbell was hot and cold with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League. He even bounced back and forth between the Texas Stars and the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
In short, the Stars’ goaltender of the future was anything but.
“I just kinda lost my identity, as a goalie, for a long time,” said Campbell, now 24 years old. “I had a couple of good years along the way, but a lot of really inconsistent years.”
“For me to have success, I like having a foundation,” added Campbell. “I didn’t have one for six years, or so. Dallas tried their best to help me, [not to mention] different people along the way. But that consistency of being there all the time—that’s how goaltending is. If your details aren’t good every single night, you’re not going to have success.”
“My foundation, my game—I was thinking way too much out there. I was second guessing myself because I didn’t have a foundation.”
In terms of goaltending, what’s a “foundation?”
“It’s really basic,” he explained. “It’s your stance, your movement in the net—the details. Having awareness on the ice, your communication, where your hands are at.”
“[With the Los Angeles Kings], we’ll watch video from our goalie sessions in practice and breakdown everything from my stance to my glove positioning, my movement, my details with my awareness, my depth in the net—everything,” he elaborated. “The smallest thing adds so much to my game. So many pieces of my game were non-existent.”
Every National Hockey League team handles their goaltenders differently. Some, like the Kings, have a full-time coach at the NHL level and one who is virtually a full-time goaltending coach at the AHL level. For other teams, it runs the gamut from full-time at both levels to part-time at both levels, and with the Stars, Campbell did not get the time with their goaltending coaches that he probably needed.
“I had two great coaches in Dallas, Mike Valley and Jeff Reese,” he emphasized. “I really enjoyed working with those two guys. It’s just unfortunate that I didn’t get the consistency with them. I didn’t see them enough.”
“I’m the first guy to say that it’s my fault that I didn’t play well enough to make the Dallas Stars,” he added. “I know what I was and what I can be, still. I just didn’t get the job done. If I would have, I would’ve been able to work with those guys every single day.”
But did the pressure of being such a high, first round draft pick weigh on him?
“He’s moved on from the Dallas organization where there was all this expectation, and I don’t know that it was from the organization,” said Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford. “It may have been him putting pressure on himself to be the guy, having been such a high, first round draft pick.”
Campbell acknowledged that he did indeed put pressure on himself, but he said that being a high, first round pick was not the reason. Rather, it was his own lofty expectations that he failed to meet, most notably, thinking that he would make the Stars roster in his draft year.
“My own expectations are always way higher than other people’s, so that didn’t weigh on me,” he insisted. “It’s not like I thought people had me ranked too high [in the 2010 draft], or something like that. But when I was 18 years old, I expected to make the Dallas Stars. Only a few guys have ever done that, and when I didn’t make it, I think that kind of threw me off, mentally.”
“If you look around the league, there are guys who are really young, but they’re mature, mentally,” he added. “They can overcome things and they have success at a young age. For me, it took me awhile to understand that. I didn’t know how to handle adversity because everything ran so smoothly [in his career] up to the draft. Getting cut by the Stars was the first thing I [failed] to do, and that really threw me off.”
“They always say that goalies take a little longer [to develop]. I don’t like saying that, but at the end of the day, I’m seeing that it does take longer.”
After six seasons in the Stars organization, Campbell had, for all intents and purposes, hit rock bottom and was no longer in their plans. But the Kings, who had a huge void in their system, in terms of depth in goal, came calling, so they sent Campbell to the Kings in exchange for defenseman prospect Nick Ebert on June 25, 2016.
Campbell welcomed the fresh start.
“The turning point was getting traded here,” he beamed. “Right away, I saw the impact that Billy and [Dusty Imoo, who handles goaltender development for the Kings] made on my game.”
“To get traded here and to have Billy and Dusty, and then be part of a great organization that plays with structure, it really helps my game. I feel really good.”
Campbell’s issues with expectations and putting pressure on himself are also things he’s working on.
“One of my biggest flaws is that I’m really hard on myself and I’m trying to settle down with that,” Campbell noted. “Dusty has really helped me with just trying to relax and have fun. It’s easier said than done, but now I am having fun, and I’ve been more successful because of it.”
“He doesn’t have to worry about [the pressure to be a franchise’s goaltender of the future] now,” said Ranford. “It’s just getting his game on track and proving that he can work his way to the NHL.”
Already, Campbell is showing signs of getting his game back on track.
“There’s a bunch of things that eight-year olds were better than me at [last] year,” he observed, only half-joking. “But we really hammered them out and worked hard at it. It took a little bit, but not too long. I had a good training camp, and a good couple of [pre-season] games, so it shows already, even though I know I can get a lot better. I know I’m not even close to reaching my potential, so I’m working hard every day.”
Campbell also pointed to the different coaching style and techniques that Ranford and Imoo employ as being beneficial.
“We look at my game, not anybody else’s game,” said Campbell. “Before, I was coached [based] on other [goalie’s] games, leading me in a different direction. When I was with the USNTDP, I was just trying to be the best Jack Campbell. I thought the results spoke for themselves, and now that I’m here, it’s the same sort of focus.”
“It’s like, ‘this is my game, these are my weaknesses that I need to improve upon,’ and we’ve been working on that every single day,” added Campbell. “Every day, I’ve been getting a little bit better and hopefully, one day, those weaknesses will be strengths.”
Ranford and Imoo have also managed to get Campbell focused on his play, and only his play.
“Now that I [have a foundation], I work so hard at it every single day, whether it’s with Billy or with Dusty in Ontario, that when game time comes along, I’m not worried about the game,” he explained. “I’m just worried about going out and playing, and that’s what I was doing in the USNTDP.”
“It’s a big difference—just trying to play, not having to think about everything,” he added. “Any player will tell you that when they’re thinking, it’s a much harder game.”
As reported earlier, inconsistency has been a big issue in Campbell’s game, but his re-discovered foundation and the details in his game are trending upward, helping to address that.
“[What we need to fix] is the inconsistency in his game,” said Ranford. “That’s probably the biggest thing and I didn’t look at him that closely. I just looked at him from his time with the U.S. National Team Development Program through his draft year. I saw that he had a pretty good technical package. He was athletic. Those are the types of things we look for in a goalie. Then you meet him and he’s just the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, so you wonder why it hasn’t worked out.”
After being recalled from the AHL’s Ontario Reign on October 22 due to a groin injury suffered by Kings backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff (with Jonathan Quick already out of the lineup due to injury), Campbell got in one period of mop-up work during the third period of a 4-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at Staples Center on November 1 before he was assigned back to the Reign on November 7.
“We’re just really excited about getting him,” said Ranford. “We’ll get his game in order. We saw something there we felt we could work with and he’s just such a good kid. He has a great attitude about trying to get better.”
“We’ve been really happy with him,” added Ranford. “There’s details in his game that I wanted to clean up, based on what I think you need to do to be successful, and we tried to do that. We just tried to make him feel good about himself. I think he was on such a low that we wanted to build him back up in a positive way. But the bottom line is that it has to come from him, and he’s done that part.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jack Campbell. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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