Goaltender Jack Campbell may or may not play during his call up to the Dallas Stars, but the fact that he was called up from the Texas Stars on Tuesday is a sign that his learning to be patient is starting to pay some dividends.
The highly competitive Campbell, who at one time was always in a hurry to climb the development ladder, has learned to slow things down a bit and absorb some lessons. Lessons that have helped make him a better goaltender and earned him his first NHL stint.
“With Jack it is a process. To get to the NHL and become an elite goaltender, you have to climb that step. There is no jumping those steps,” Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley said. “When you are young and newly drafted, you want to get there as quick as you can. You get to a point where you start realizing, wait a second, it doesn’t work that way. I do have to learn my lessons, I do have to have the ups and downs, I do have to continue to learn. That’s what he went through.”
Learning to be patient was just one hurdle for Campbell.
“Half of it is accepting that goalies take longer. You have to continue to get better every day, both physically and mentally,” the 21-year-old Campbell said Tuesday afternoon. “The other half is you realize how good the NHL goalies really are. It’s no knock on those guys when your goal is to be up here sooner than later, but until you see them playing and practicing every day then it’s an eye-opener. You look at Kari (Lehtonen) and he does everything so well. I am just trying to learn from him. It’s half mentally on my part and half seeing how good those guys are.”
And getting that good doesn’t just happen. There will be those ups and downs, and Campbell has had his since being drafted by the Stars in the first round (11th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He had two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League where things didn’t go as well as maybe he would have liked.
Even this season, his first full one as a professional, there have been some ups and downs. He took a back seat to Cristopher Nilstorp earlier in the season, didn’t play all that often and his numbers weren’t that impressive.
But once the NHL lockout ended and Nilstorp headed to Dallas and then tweaked a groin and went on injured reserve, Campbell had a chance to take the reins in Texas and he didn’t disappoint. In February, he posted a 6-2-1 record with a 1.65 goals against average and .932 save percentage. For the season, he is 14-10-3 with a 2.59 goals against average and .906 save percentage.
“I have a lot of confidence in my play right now and I have a lot of confidence in the team,” Campbell said.
Valley said the first part of the season, when Campbell served as a backup to Nilstorp, provided some valuable lessons.
“The benefit that he had the first half of the season is he got to sit on the bench and watch a mature goaltender play,” said Valley. “The whole thing with Jack is let’s calm your game down, not only on the ice, but off the ice as well. It’s control your emotions, play under control. He’s really doing that. He’s really managing that and getting the mind frame that the only thing that matters is that next shot. That’s all that matters. Don’t think about tomorrow, it doesn’t exist. Don’t think about yesterday, it’s gone. Let’s just think about right now, and what we can do to play well.
“He has that attitude and he has really started to mature his game on the ice, and slow everything down. When I say slow down, it doesn’t mean being lethargic, it means you are not over moving on things and over reacting on things. You are letting the puck do the work, and letting your body do the work. It’s basically letting the puck come to you.”
And Campbell admits that slowing down his game and been his biggest step forward the past couple years.
“Ever since they drafted me, that was my biggest flaw for sure,” he said. “It’s tough. I am such a competitor that I want the puck, whether I am shooting the puck or stopping the puck – I always want the puck. You look at the best goalies in the league and they’re always so calm in their demeanor as well as their game. I am just trying to be relaxed and nice and calm and a leader on the team. Everything else takes care of itself if you do that.”
Time will tell if Campbell will get a start during this stint with the Dallas Stars. The Stars play in Colorado on Wednesday and then in Los Angeles on Thursday. A back-to-back situation always opens the possibility the backup could play. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said the team will see how things go in Denver Wednesday and then make a decision. For now, Richard Bachman, who was assigned to Texas on Tuesday, will get some starts in the AHL and Campbell will get some quality time with the big club.
“I think it is an opportunity for both goaltenders,” Nieuwendyk said. “It’s an opportunity for Bachs to go down and get two games, tonight and Friday night. Then we go on the road and give Jack a little experience at the NHL level, practicing with us. There’s no guarantee he’ll get into a game. He’ll back up Kari. … We’ll see how things go in Colorado and make a decision on whether he plays in Los Angeles or not. But it is important for Bachs to get some games, some starts.”
Campbell sees the opportunity as a reward for that patience, and a lot of hard work.
“It’s exciting. I’ve worked really hard to get this opportunity,” he said. “It’s great to get called up and I am just trying to absorb everything. Just the skate here this morning, I feel I am getting better and learning. It will be a lot of fun to be up here with these guys.”
And if he does get the call to play, he said he’s ready.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’d like to say I’ve worked as hard as any other for this. I am 100 percent confident in my game and this team. I just want to help this team whether I am on the bench or other than that.”