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Campbell is Right On Schedule

by Doug Foster / Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley does his homework.

His latest project? The league’s top 30 goaltenders and their average age at the time of their NHL debut.

The findings might shock you. Of those 30 netminders, they averaged nearly 24 years of age before they ever played an NHL game.

“Basically it’s 5.8 years after they are drafted that they get into the NHL,” Valley said. “It’s about patience. More than any other position, developing a goaltender takes time.”

Words to remember for Stars fans anxious to see Dallas’ 2010 first-round pick, goaltender Jack Campbell, playing at this level in the near future.

Dallas took Campbell, who turned 20 in January, 11th overall two summers ago. In the near 24 months since that draft, his progression has been, as the Stars front office expected it to be, steady and in the right direction.

For starters, Campbell has played in three World Junior Championships for the United States, an experience that’s invaluable when it comes to developing a young player’s character.

Even better than the experience gained was the way Campbell performed for his country. After winning gold medals at the 2009 and 2010 Under-18 World Championships, he led the Americans to gold at World Juniors in Saskatoon in 2010, entering the championship game against Canada in the second-period with his team trailing 3-0. From that point, he stopped 32 of 34 shots to help the U.S. win in overtime.

His three gold medals (to go with one bronze in 2011) are the most ever by an American goaltender at the international level. He’s just the second American goaltender to play in three IIHF World Junior Championships (along with Alan Perry, 1984-86), and his nine World Junior career victories are tied with Al Montoya for the most ever by an American netminder. Overall, he posted a 16-2-1-4 record, a 1.63 GAA and a .940 save percentage in IIHF play.

Needless to say, internationally, Campbell has made his mark.

“That’s a great growing experience for any kid,” said Les Jackson, Stars Director of Player Personnel. “To be named the top player at that position in your country for your age group, and to be recognized as such for three years in a row, that’s a great chance to see how you match up against the best players your age. It’s a good way to measure you own abilities and see where you fit.”

Clearly, Campbell fits. And he proved he fits not just against the best competition, but also in the toughest environments.

“The beauty of Jack’s situation was having two of those events in Canada,” Jackson said. “That’s a huge platform for that tournament, and it’s one of the best experiences in junior hockey. If Jack’s going to grow and become a top NHL goalie he’s going to have to deal with adversity and deal with the other team’s fans (being all over him). In those tournaments he handled that well.”

Outside of the World Juniors, Campbell also spent two full seasons in the highly competitive Ontario Hockey League, first with the Windsor Spitfires before winding up with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

In two years in Windsor, he compiled a 30-17-6 record with a 3.64 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage. For the Greyhounds, he was 15-12-5 with a 3.58 GAA and a .892 save percentage.

The numbers probably aren’t what Campbell would have liked in the OHL, but Jackson saw progress, and a necessary hockey lesson, for the first-round pick.

“Those last two years for Jack were probably the best experience he could have, maybe better than the World Juniors,” Jackson said. “Playing in the Canadian Hockey League, something out of his element, to get in there and plug away every day with those guys was great for him. He had some growing pains and learning experiences and he faced more adversity than he probably has at any point.

“But I think it was good for him. We had Ron Hextall back in junior and he got smoked a lot of nights, but it made him the player he became. I believe one day Jack’s going to look back and say ‘those were two great seasons for me.’ Not measured in save percentage or in goals against, but in personal growth.”

The growth continued for Campbell late this past season when he got his first professional experience with the Texas Stars.

While in Cedar Park, he was 4-7-0 with a 3.02 GAA and a .912 save percentage.

From the time he arrived in Texas, his teammates, according to General Manager Scott White, saw a work ethic like they had rarely seen at that level.

“If you polled his teammates from when he got down here, they would say they might count on one hand, if that many, the number of players they’ve ever seen who worked as hard in practice as Jack does,” White said. “He’s 100 percent committed to giving his teammates and himself everything he’s got every single day.

“If you could have more of those guys, I don’t know anybody in management who wouldn’t be thrilled with that.”

That work ethic has been a constant for Campbell since Valley started working with him when Campbell was just 16.

Even then, before Valley was employed by the Stars, he saw what White noticed – that Campbell was bound and determined to be the best goaltender he could possibly be and to someday be an NHL player.

“He’s the Tim Tebow of the goalie world,” Valley said. “He just isn’t going to quit.”

He hasn’t, and he’s not going to. He already has the size (6-3), and is constantly, according to those around him, improving on the things he will need to become a top NHL goaltender.

One of those – the same thing preached to Stars fans in waiting – is patience, mostly while on the ice. Stars management wants to see Campbell “let the game come to him,” more often than forcing the issue, something Valley said even current Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen had to learn before he reached the elite level he has the last two seasons in Dallas.

And the franchise hopes that Campbell, who is expected to come to camp early to work with Valley and Lehtonen, might learn a thing or two about the NHL routine from the Stars’ current number one guy – another former first-round draft pick who had to go through a few growing pains before reaching his current level of success.

When he does, those who’ve worked with him from the start are quite certain he can be a number one NHL backstop himself.

“He is going to will his way into the NHL and be a great goaltender, if for no other reason than he’s so determined,” Valley said. “There’s zero doubt in my mind that he’s going to be a really good goaltender in the NHL.”

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