By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Gregory Campbell was standing outside the locker room at BankAtlantic Center last week with his hat on backwards and wearing a plain, white V-neck T-Shirt.
Not exactly the poster boy for Ed Hardy.
Then again, no one ever said Campbell was particularly flashy, including Campbell. But in his fourth season as a Panther, the 24-year-old center is suddenly seeing his name in lights and on the score sheet.
Always a solid penalty killer and grinding role player – the first player on the ice and usually the last off - Campbell has become one of the Panthers’ biggest surprises through the first quarter of the season.
Having scored only five goals in 81 games last season, Campbell has six goals through his first 22 games this season and 13 points. Campbell not only continues excelling at the roles he played the last few years, but coach Peter DeBoer is also regularly using Campbell on the power play.
When asked about his recent spate of scoring – one that included goals in three consecutive games last week – Campbell mused, “The goals? I can’t explain the goals.”
With the likes of David Booth, Nathan Horton and Cory Stillman out of the lineup, Campbell was one of many role players who stepped up for the Panthers as they grinded out 12 of a possible 16 points over the past two weeks and have gone 5-1-2 in their last eight games.
In Monday’s 4-3 overtime victory in Ottawa, Campbell led all Panther forwards in ice time with 22:21, had an assist and was a plus-1.
Campbell considered his recent scoring burst.
“I wouldn’t say I’m playing any better than I have the last two years,” he said. “I’m getting more of an opportunity and, I think if you ask anybody, a big part of pro sports is confidence. I have the confidence right now. Not the kind of confidence that I’m going to go out there and score. It’s the confidence I can go out there and play my game knowing that if I make a mistake (coach Peter DeBoer) has the confidence in me that, ‘Hey, I can throw him back out there.’ So it’s about getting more of an opportunity and having confidence.”
Campbell has a history with DeBoer dating back to Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League. DeBoer coached the 2003 Rangers to the Memorial Cup Championship and Campbell led all players in scoring with seven points (one goal).
DeBoer said last week Campbell may be playing with more confidence because of the “familiarity” the two have.
“He feels more comfortable on the ice and he has the confidence to maybe try and do a little more,” DeBoer said. “He knows my expectations of him are more, too. Not just to go out there and take a shift but to actually go out there and net a few goals.”
Campbell, who scored 23 goals during his 2002-03 season at Kitchener, believes he can score. But it’s the way he has to score.
“I’m not a Nathan Horton, but that doesn’t mean just because I don’t have Horton’s hands or (David) Booth’s shot or speed I can’t score,” he said. “You look around and there’s Gary Roberts and Marty Gelinas. They score their fair share of goals. They just score in different ways. I think if I go to those areas, in front of the net and gets tips and rebounds, there might be more opportunity there to score goals in the league. If that’s the opportunity I get, it’s something I want to take and it’s nice I’m considered for those times when the power play might be struggling. That obviously instills confidence in me.”
Campbell, who’s played the past several weeks with veterans Ville Peltonen and Radek Dvorak, isn’t going to decipher why he’s suddenly scoring goals. When asked about a wrist shot he took that resulted in a goal last week against the Sabres, he replied; “I’ve probably taken that shot 100 times in the last four years.”
But going to the net and taking the shot is where confidence has helped Campbell.
“Maybe in the past I might not have gone to the net,” he considered. “Maybe I would have filtered back and tried to be the high man rather than go to the net and look for the pass (from Michael Frolik).”
Campbell doesn’t believe he’ll ever be a 50-goal scorer. But he’s fine with that. Nothing flashy, thank you very much. Campbell considers himself a “two-way player” who “believes in myself and that I can score some goals.”
“At the end of the day,” Campbell continues, “my job is to be on the ice when we’re up a goal at the end of the game. I’m not so much the guy you’re going to throw out when you’re down a goal. Not that I wouldn’t like that. But I have to stick to what I’m good at and recognize what kind of player I am and, hopefully, the goals will keep coming.”