MONTREAL -- Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell took the ice for his 1,000th NHL game at Bell Centre on Tuesday, an accomplishment made that much sweeter by the number of times he was overlooked in his career.
"It means a lot to me," Campbell said prior to the game. "A lot of hard work went into it, I wasn't just kind of given it. It wasn't given to me right away, it took me a few years to establish myself. I don't think the odds were too good that I was going to get to this point, you can ask a lot of people."
Those people might point out that Campbell was not selected until the sixth round of the 1997 NHL Draft, No. 156 overall, by the Buffalo Sabres.
A decade later Campbell was leading the Sabres to their second straight trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2007, having become one of the top puck-moving defensemen in the NHL.
But in 2008 the Sabres decided they would not sign Campbell as an unrestricted free agent in the summer and traded him to the San Jose Sharks before the 2008 NHL Trade Deadline. The Sharks lost in the second round of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs before deciding, like the Sabres, not to sign Campbell to a contract.
The Chicago Blackhawks signed Campbell to an eight-year contract that summer worth in excess of $57 million and armed with a no-trade clause. He helped lead them to the 2009 Western Conference Final before winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
But again, a year later, Campbell became a salary cap casualty with the Blackhawks, and he was asked to lift his no-trade clause and accept a trade to the Panthers, run by his former general manager in Chicago, Dale Tallon. He was traded to Florida at the 2011 NHL Draft for forward Rostislav Olesz, who played six games for Chicago.
"The game of hockey, as a lot of people know, is a business," Campbell said. "It's probably not the move I wanted to make at the time, but it was kind of put to me and I had to make a decision. I'm fine being overlooked if that's the case, or if I'm overrated, whatever. That's life. But at least my effort's there and I try to continue to get better and help other people to get better.
"I feel like I'm playing great hockey right now. I've played great hockey for a long stretch of my career and I've got a lot more great hockey left in me."
Today the Panthers are reaping the benefits of that trade more than ever before.
Campbell, 36, remains a vital defensive cog because of his exemplary play and the way he has helped the development of young defensemen like Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and, most recently, 2015 Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad.
When Campbell took the ice Tuesday he also set a new Panthers record with his 375th consecutive game; every game since the trade.
"It's what we get paid to do and what we want to do," Campbell said, "For them to be able to mark my name on the lineup sheet every night."
Though it is a flawed statistic in many ways, entering Tuesday Campbell leads the Panthers and is fourth in the NHL with a plus-29 rating to go with six goals and 31 points in 79 games.
Campbell may not have been initially thrilled with the idea of playing for the Panthers, but things have never looked brighter in South Florida, both for him and the Panthers.
With a young core of stars that includes Ekblad, and forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad and others surrounded by a solid group of veterans, Campbell is eager to see what the Panthers can do in the playoffs this spring.
"I'm playing to win. I'm playing to win it all," Campbell said. "I've been lucky enough to win it all, so I know what that feels like and I want that feeling again. That's what I'm playing for, and I want other people to share that feeling and have that feeling. I want Aaron Ekblad to have that feeling so bad, and I want to be able to have that feeling again for myself. That's what I'm playing for."