Checking In On Another LA Kings Goaltender Resurrection Project

ONTARIO, CA — When Frozen Royalty last looked in on Los Angeles Kings goaltender prospect Jack Campbell, he had been recalled by the team on October 22, 2016, for a short time early this season.

Six months later, the 25-year-old, 6-2, 197-pound native of Port Huron, Michigan is backstopping the American Hockey League’s Ontario Reign in the first round of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs, with Game 4 against the San Diego Gulls to be played tonight at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, with the Reign trailing in the best-of-five series, 2-1.

In 52 regular season games (3,072 minutes), Campbell, who was acquired by the Kings from Dallas Stars in exchange for defenseman prospect Nick Ebert on June 25, 2016, earned a 31-15-6 record, a 2.52 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and five shutouts.

In three playoff games this season, Campbell has earned a 2.03 GAA and a .923 save percentage.

As previously reported in this space, Campbell was the hottest goaltending prospect in 2010. He was even considered to be a top ten draft prospect in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft after excelling in major junior hockey in Canada and in the United States National Team Development Program.

Campbell was selected in the first round (11th overall) in the 2010 draft by the Stars—he was to be their goaltender of the future, but things didn’t work out that way at all.

To make a long story short, Campbell was inconsistent, at best, with the Texas Stars of the AHL and even played stints in the ECHL with the Idaho Steelheads in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, hitting rock bottom.

Pundits, NHL insiders and fans alike were shaking their heads when the Kings traded for him. Sure, they lacked goaltending depth, but given Campbell’s history, no one thought it was a wise move.

But there is a reason that the Kings have, arguably, the best goaltending coaching staff in the NHL, and like they did to help Peter Budaj resurrect his career, a similar process is underway for Campbell.

“It all stemmed, from the beginning, from changing his mindset, which was quite a project, because he was pretty beaten down,” said Dusty Imoo, who handles goaltender development for the Kings.

Part of the reason that Campbell was “beaten down” was that while playing in the Dallas organization, he lost his confidence, pretty much completely, not to mention any sort of direction.

“I’m not here to knock down Dallas, or the staff there,” Imoo stressed. “They’re good guys. But we all go through stages in our careers where you lost that mojo, if you will, and Jack did. It was kind of tormenting him and I think, having someone, like myself, helped him let all that go, as opposed to just hammering on the technical side of his game.”

“Once we were able to get him to accept the fact that it was OK that things didn’t go well in the beginning of his career and just rebuild from scratch, that started the ascent for him.”

As he did for Budaj, Imoo got into Campbell’s head.

“I guess I was able to determine what he was thinking,” he noted. “But a large part of how I coach is rapport building, an asset of mine. I was able to get him to open up about what he was thinking, and some of the things that were in his head. Once I was able to figure that out—it was breaking things down [to allow him] to build.”

“Then he started to have faith,” he added. “Little things started to work for him. He’s a real quick learner and that’s why you could see him make progress.”

But the changes Campbell made were not all mental.

“There were [parts of his game] that changed,” said Imoo. “He had lost himself. He was trying to be other people. For example, he’s friends with Connor Hellebuyck, who I had in Winnipeg. They’re totally different goalies, but Jack was trying to do things the way Connor did. He was very much doing things like that when I first got him, so I told him, ‘you have assets of your own. Let’s build on those.’”

“He was open to rebuilding himself,” added Imoo. “There were things that needed to be worked on, but it was easy because he’s such a sponge. Once he had the freedom to be himself, he just took off.”

“He didn’t really know what he was, at all. I just helped him to have an identity again.”

That identify has led to confidence and a total mindset change.

“I’ve been here pretty much the whole year, working with Dusty,” said Campbell. “You can see it—my game has completely changed, hopefully in all positive ways, and mentally—I mean, you give up two goals in a playoff game and then shut the door. The point that Dusty makes is to just enjoy the moment. When you do that, you don’t worry too much about results because you get a lot of results.”

“In my past, I didn’t even enjoy playing hockey games,” added Campbell. “I didn’t mind practicing because there was no pressure. I just put too much pressure on myself and it wasn’t fun anymore. So when I played in the ECHL, I put up horrible numbers. What I learned very quickly here with Dusty is that I’ve got to enjoy my life, first. Then I’ve got to enjoy playing the game because I love it. When you do that, with my talent, then I can be successful.”

“It’s like anything in life. If you go golfing, you enjoy golf. But if you try to be a scratch golfer, it doesn’t happen overnight. If you beat yourself up over that, it’s not going to be fun. So now, my approach is to just enjoy the moment. When you do that, anything in life is fun. It’s like sitting at the table. I’m not looking at my phone anymore. I’m just enjoying the moment, eating my food, appreciating what’s on my plate. That’s my philosophy now.”

As Campbell indicated, he owes that new philosophy to Imoo’s teachings.

“It’s good to be driven, but if things don’t go well, then it’s, ‘awww…I’m a failure,’ and he’s hard on himself,” Imoo observed. “Success and failure aren’t based on achieving your goals right away. It’s just about playing good hockey and having fun. I really focused on him just enjoying the game. That’ll help him get there.”

“You always want to have goals,” Imoo added. “But his goal is just to play well and give the team the best chance to win, every night. That direction will lead you [to making it to the NHL]. He was largely based on goal setting. He wanted things now. He thought he was going to be in the NHL at 19, a starter at 20. He wanted all of that.”

“As long as he does the same things consistently—it’s not going to work out every night—over and over, and not care about the goal of making it to the NHL—if you just do these things, that’s what’s going to give you the best chance of making it to the NHL.”

Having Imoo and Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford to work with him, and with Imoo also serving as an amateur psychologist, has turned Campbell’s career around.

“I knew right away that we had something special here with the attention to detail and just the luxury of having a full-time goalie coach,” said Campbell. “Bill would even send me text messages after watching video of me and he worked with me while I was up with the Kings. Having Dusty and Bill to learn from and talk to is just enormous for me.”

“I’m so confident and so happy that I just know we’re going in the right direction with my career here.”

LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings goaltender prospect Jack Campbell, shown here playing for the AHL’s Ontario Reign. Photo: Dinur Blum.

Frozen Royalty’s Jack Campbell Coverage

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