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Saad, Campbell eager to help Blue Jackets evolve

by Craig Merz / Columbus Blue Jackets


COLUMBUS -- It's no secret the Columbus Blue Jackets believe forwards Brandon Saad and Gregory Campbell can help them reach new heights because of their experiences in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Saad, 22, won two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks, including last season, before being traded to Columbus as part of a seven-player transaction on June 30. Campbell, 31, signed as a free agent on July 1 and was a champion with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and lost to Chicago in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.

But in order for them to hoist the Cup again, they must first help the Blue Jackets reach the postseason, something Columbus has done twice in 14 seasons, most recently in 2013-14.

"It's an up-and-coming team with a lot of excitement," Saad said Wednesday. "You see when healthy how dominant they were toward the end of the season. They want to win around here. I know that attitude. I love being around it."

Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson told NHL.com Saad and Campbell's pedigrees are just as important in the regular season.

"You need that experience all year long, from the drop of the puck at camp through the preseason schedule and the season itself," Davidson said. "You've got to get into the playoffs. The parity is unbelievable. We're a team that improved, but a lot of other teams improved.

"There's not a chance anybody is putting the cart ahead of the horse."

Yet, expectations have never been higher. The Blue Jackets led the NHL with 508 man-games lost last season and were out of the playoff hunt by early March before getting healthy.

Columbus (42-35-5) then went on a 15-1-1 run and finished with a franchise record 13-game unbeaten streak (12-0-1).

Saad and Campbell welcome the challenge of helping the Blue Jackets return to the postseason despite the youthfulness and inexperience on the roster.

"It's a very fine line from actually winning the Stanley Cup and being a winner," Campbell said. "Just because you haven't won [the Stanley Cup], doesn't mean you're not a winner. It takes some luck. It takes so many things to win the Stanley Cup as far as being healthy. Sometimes a series is decided in a moment in overtime in Game 7.

"You have to have that commitment. You have to have that belief in yourself. It's a long road. It starts at the beginning of training camp. Everybody's got to buy into the systems and philosophies the coaches instill and you have to come together as a family."

Only Scott Hartnell (91) has played more Stanley Cup Playoff games than Saad's 67 among players on the Blue Jackets roster. Campbell is next with 59 games.

In fact, the two newcomers' totals are 27.3 percent of Columbus' combined playoff experience of 460 games.

"We're both fortunate to be a part of great teams and have success," Saad said. "Coming here, even though we're the only two guys to win the Stanley Cup, there's a lot of good players here who are excited and passionate about getting there and achieving that.

"Bringing in the experiences we've gone through can help, but at the same time it's about being part of a great team that's going to be a tight group and have a lot of chemistry."

Campbell said he and Saad will provide leadership and advice but the locker room is already in good hands.

"People talk about us coming here and what we've done, winning more or less, but I have a lot of respect for a lot of guys in that room too," Campbell said. "The captain, Nick Foligno, is a tremendous hockey player, not a flashy guy, but he's really respected around the League. That's kind of how this team is, not real flashy but works really hard."

Saad and Campbell also have personal motivations. There have been theories about Saad that he's only as good as the players around him, a byproduct of a very talented team in Chicago. He's eager to prove the doubters wrong.

"I believe in my ability," he said. "When you play with great players, things like that happen. I'm going to be playing with great players here too.

"When the team wins and has success everyone wins and has success. Stats are what they are, but I want to come here and have success, but wins are what matters."

Davidson scoffed at Saad's critics.

"I don't know if he has something to prove," he said. "He's driven to be a terrific player. I know he's got the right attitude. I know the research that we did with everybody, and it was a lot, came out very, very strong.

"We're adding a terrific young forward that has the world ahead of him, He has the opportunity to be one of the best players in the game at his position."

Campbell tested free agency for the first time and said the Blue Jackets were the right fit.

"First and foremost as a player, to feel like you're wanted and your game is appreciated and my style of player in particular is appreciated," he said. "Columbus reached out to me and made it clear they were interested."

Davidson expects Campbell to fill the fourth-line role left by Mark Letestu, who signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers.

"(Letestu's) a wonderful, wonderful guy, a great Blue Jacket, but evolution happens," Davidson said. "We bring in Gregory. He has experience. He's won a Stanley Cup and we're moving forward."

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