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Highly-touted Campbell on track to bright NHL future

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

After facing, and conquering, some significant moments of adversity in 2010-11, Jack Campbell’s ascension to becoming the Dallas Stars’ netminder of the future looks to be right on track.

The highly-touted first-round selection (11th overall) by the Stars in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft rebounded from a rough beginning to last season to sparkle at the World Junior Championships and then lead his Windsor squad to the OHL’s Western Conference Finals.

Heading into Dallas’ 2011 training camp, the 19-year-old native of Port Huron, MI is aiming to win a roster spot on the big club but will more likely return to the OHL for one last year of junior hockey.

Either way, Stars management is happy with his progression and remains excited about his potential, even with the difficulties he endured early last season.

“Campbell’s an amazing prospect,” said Les Jackson, the Stars’ Director of Player Personnel. “Going to the Ontario Hockey League was the best experience for him. Traditionally what’s happened to a lot of American kids who go to the Canadian (juniors), the first year is a challenge. It’s a tough league and there’s a lot of competition.”

“Jack is a very promising player for the future of our organization,” added Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “He has a strong work ethic and we are looking forward to watching him develop as his career progresses.”

After helping lead Team USA to the gold medal at the 2010 World Juniors, Campbell made the jump from the US National Development Program to the OHL, where Windsor was coming off two consecutive Memorial Cup championships. Expectations were sky-high, but he struggled early, going 2-5-0 over the first three weeks, giving up four-or-more goals in each of his first eight starts.

“Obviously, it was a bit of a rough start,” acknowledged Campbell, “coming from (Stars training) camp and having real high expectations of myself and my team. And you know what? It kind of taught me that you’ve got to basically live in the moment - you can’t get too caught up in where you want to be because it’s not always going to end up how you write it down. At the same time, I learned a lot in that rough start. After that, I thought I settled down.”

He won his next four starts and both he and his team gradually turned things around, and by Christmastime, when the 2011 World Juniors got underway in Buffalo, Campbell showed that he was back to prime form. Registering a 5-1 record, including a miniscule 1.70 goals-against average and a tournament-best .941 save percentage, Campbell helped backstop the US squad to a bronze medal on home ice, winning the Best Goaltender Award for the second year in a row.
“I think it's huge, playing on that world stage,” Campbell said of his experience at the World Juniors. “That’s the highest level of hockey I’ve played up to this point. It’s great hockey, it’s a lot of fun to be a part of and overall, it’s taught me a lot mentally and physically in how to prepare for hopefully getting to this next level of playing in the NHL.”

Dallas management was impressed with the way Campbell battled through the early-season woes and got his game back on track, eventually leading Windsor back into the playoffs and on a nice playoff run. Through 18 post-season contests, Campbell recorded a 9-9 record, losing three games in overtime, with two shutouts.

“I think he went through that adversity and showed at the World Juniors his caliber, and then he went back and he pushed them deep into the playoffs,” Jackson said. “I think if you just look at pure stats, yeah, he didn’t do great, but if you look at wins, then it was pretty impressive and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”

“It was great, a huge mental learning experience this year that will for sure help me as a better professional athlete,” said Campbell of the 2010-11 season overall, in which he posted a 24-14-4 record with a 3.80 goals-against average and .884 save percentage in 45 regular season games. “We had a real good playoff run and I thought we made it real far. And going over to the men’s World Championships was a great way to end the year and now I feel I’m ready to take that next step.”

Following his junior season, Campbell did accompany Team USA’s squad for the World Championships in Slovakia as their third goaltender, and while he didn’t end up seeing any action, dressing as the backup just once, the experience helped him realize what he needs to do to keep climbing the ladder.

“I think the biggest thing for myself is just slowing the game down, being more patient,” said Campbell. “If you look at NHL guys, obviously they have quickness and size, things that I think I can portray hopefully one day in the NHL, and just slow things down and keep things a little more calm in the net.”

His strong character and high expectations of himself is evident when the subject of Cam Fowler comes up. The Anaheim defenseman, chosen by the Ducks with the 12th overall pick in 2010, immediately after Dallas snagged Campbell, stepped right into the NHL last year and enjoyed a successful rookie season, even scoring the overtime goal against Dallas in a crushing defeat in March that helped doom the Stars’ playoff chances.

“Truthfully, it’s more of a compliment,” said Campbell regarding the pressure of having to justify the Stars’ choice. “Dallas selected me and the guy’s probably going to be a Hall of Famer some day so I’m just trying to be the best player I can be, and hopefully help Dallas win a couple of Stanley Cups down the road.”

The confident Campbell also makes no secret of his plans to compete for a Dallas roster spot this September in training camp, even though he still has junior eligibility remaining.

“Truthfully, I’m just working hard every day to get ready for next year and try to get better on the ice and we’ll see where that takes me,” Campbell said.

“He’s a passionate kid, he wants to play,” Jackson noted. “Like all those guys, they want to get there today, but the timetable says it’s a little later, so I think in the ideal world, we’ll bring him to camp and he’ll probably end up back in Windsor. That’s the natural progression. He’ll get a lot of games there, a lot of experience, and we’ll see a year down the road from there.”

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