It's been quite a ride for Jack Campbell.
From competing for a starting goalie spot for the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team to winning a gold medal at the World Junior Championship, to now focusing on the 2010 Entry Draft, things have been going up fast for the 18-year-old native of Port Huron, Mich.
"It's been great," Campbell told NHL.com. "It's been a lot of fun this season."
In 26 games this season, Campbell is 14-11-1 with a 2.57 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. He is second among North American goaltenders in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of draft prospects, and he's done nothing since that list was published in January to change that perspective when the group releases its final rankings next month.
"I saw enough of him in the first half and the World Junior scene to know that he's a top-end goalie," Al Jensen, Central Scouting's goaltending expert, told NHL.com. "He's a quality goalie. He's got great quickness and athleticism, great drive and work ethic, and can make the big save."
The highlight of Campbell's season had to be his two weeks in Saskatoon at the 2010 World Juniors. He played in just three games, going 2-1 with a 2.54 GAA, but after sitting on the bench for most of the medal round, he replaced Michael Lee in the gold medal game and backstopped the U.S. to its second-ever championship at the elite international under-20 championship.
He entered the game four minutes into the second period of a 3-3 game, and stopped 32 of 34 shots at the U.S. won 6-5 in overtime. He made a number of dynamic saves, capped by a strong pad stop on an Alex Pietrangelo drive in overtime that led to John Carlson's golden goal.
"When Coach (Dean) Blais tapped me and said go, I was ready," Campbell told NHL.com. "The only thought that was going through my head was that my team isn't leaving Saskatoon without a gold medal."
And that's just how he played.
"He's an unbelievable goalie," Carlson said that night. "He kept us in it a lot. … He kept us in there when we needed him most, that's the most important thing, making the last save and he did that."
On the winning play, he had to stop a rifle shot from Pietrangelo -- voted the tournament's best defenseman -- and angled the rebound perfectly to John Ramage, who sprung Carlson for the winning moment. It was a moment Campbell admits now to missing.
"(Jordan) Schroeder made a great move to start that breakaway and their goalie made a save, and now it's my turn to make a save, and sure enough it's one of their top goal scorers (Pietrangelo)," recalled Campbell. "He comes down, rips a shot, I'm fortunate to make the save. … At that point I recuperated, looked own to catch my breath … I glanced up a little bit and I saw Carlson going down (to celebrate) and I'm thinking, what's that guy doing. Then I saw the rest of our bench skate out as hard as they could."
Campbell joined in the celebration, but 48 hours later he was back in Ann Arbor, Mich., at the USNTDP campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., and he admits it took him some time to readjust to playing regular-season games.
"It was tough," he said. "I'm not usually the one that talks about being fatigued, mentally or physically, but having 2-3 weeks straight of hockey like that, it took a lot out of me, plus the intensity of those games. I had two off-weekends (when he got back).
"Coming back from the World Juniors, that's the highest level of hockey there is until the NHL, so it's tough to bring your game back down to the USHL level. It took me a little bit of time to readjust. Probably three weekends of games."
That adjustment finally seems to be complete in the wake of his worst game of the season, March 6 against Sioux Falls, when he allowed four goals on 12 shots and was pulled 2:10 into the second period.
"When Coach Blais tapped me and said go, I was ready. The only thought that was going through my head was that my team isn't leaving Saskatoon without a gold medal." -- Jack Campbell
The scouts who have seen Campbell the most, however, know results like that are an anomaly.
"I could tell he's very confident in himself," Jensen said. "Saw him again after World Juniors, and I could see that swagger, see that confidence. … That game he played against Sioux Falls, it was maybe his worst game of the year, but he's a quality goalie, a real solid goalie. He's got all the tools you need to play at the pro level, absolutely."
Campbell admits to looking forward to spending late June in Los Angeles and what the draft holds -- he's likely to be a first-round pick, possibly the first goalie chosen -- but he's keeping it in perspective.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited for the draft, but I'm looking at it as a wedding date," he said. "It's one day out of your life. It's exciting, but you have to keep working."
And he's got another trip left on his wild ride -- the World Under-18 Championship in Belarus in April. At last year's tournament, Campbell put an indelible stamp in the minds of scouts by starting as the backup -- similar to the World Juniors -- before emerging as a star and backstopping the U.S. to the gold medal. He went 6-1 with a 0.75 GAA and a pair of shutouts and was named to the all-tournament team.
"I feel as a player I've made huge strides on the ice, in the weight room and as a person," said Campbell. "And there's a chance it's going to be even better -- we can go to Belarus and get another gold medal."Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com