Jack Campbell's pro career off to solid start

CEDAR PARK, Texas -- Dallas Stars goaltending prospect Jack Campbell played his final game of the season with the Texas Stars of the AHL on Sunday, and turned in another solid performance. He stopped 31 shots in a 2-1 loss at Houston.

Campbell ended his first foray into the pro ranks with a 4-7-0 record, 3.02 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. The numbers don’t jump out at you, but sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Those who have been around Campbell in the AHL are impressed.

“He’s phenomenal,” said Texas coach Jeff Pyle. “The kid has a work ethic second to none. He’s a professional, great kid, character guy. All he cares about is the game, which is refreshing.”

“I wish we had had Jack in January,” said Texas GM Scott White. “The youthful energy and the passion he has for the game, we’ve always known it. Living it now for a good three weeks, it’s been fun. He works harder than anyone in practice. I think that work ethic holds your teammates accountable.”

His play has been solid as well. He’s given his team a chance to win on most nights. And, at times, he’s been spectacular.

“He doesn’t quit on any puck,” said White. “(Friday) night in San Antonio he made just a couple of ridiculous saves that a lot of guys wouldn’t have tried. He doesn’t quit. These games are invaluable to him for his progression.”

The 20-year-old Michigan native didn’t wade into his AHL career. Once he got to Cedar Park he started every game, the final 12 of the season for the Texas Stars. His first two starts came on the road against two of the top teams in the Western Conference. He had a solid 32-save effort in a 3-1 loss to Oklahoma City in his pro debut. Two nights later he got his first pro win, stopping 32 shots in a 4-2 victory at Toronto. In his fifth start, he posted a 30-save shutout win over Lake Erie at Cedar Park Center.

“It was awesome and to do it in front of the fans, who are unbelievable, was pretty cool,” Campbell said of the shutout. “It was one of the most memorable games of my career. Hopefully there are a lot more of those to come.”

There have been some ups and downs since joining Texas. He won three of his first five decisions, but lost five of his last six. He’s played well, backstopping a team that has been plagued by turnovers and defensive lapses all season. It’s a reason Texas ended up last in the Western Conference this season.

But this was about Campbell getting experience at the pro level and helping set him up for next season, which will be his first full year of professional hockey.

“It’s huge for my development, the experience for next season, to get me down here early and play some games,” Campbell said. “I’m learning what it takes to have success at this level. I feel like I am learning a lot and trying to do that every single day.”

As is the case with any young player, it’s been an adjustment. The players are better, plays happen faster and shots get to the net quicker. But the game is also more structured than in junior hockey, and Campbell sees that as a plus.

“That’s why I think I struggled in juniors. I tend to play pretty quick in the crease and I got beat too much because I was ahead of the play,” Campbell said. “Here it is so fast and structured and in control. It’s more structured and the guys know what they have to do. Everybody is so good that you just have to take care of your job.”

Campbell joined Texas last month after two seasons of junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League. Campbell played for both Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie, posting a 45-29-11 record, 3.62 goals against average and .890 save percentage. He helped Windsor to get into the playoffs last year, but Sault Ste. Marie missed the postseason this year.

Overall, the junior years didn’t go the way Campbell had hoped and he kept his assessment of his OHL career short and to the point.

“I’ll leave it at this: I learned a lot and I’ve taken a lot from it, more from the mental side of it. I am ready to move on,” he said. “I am feeling great out here and feeling great for next season.”

Next season will be Campbell’s first full season as a pro and he’s expected to spend it with the Texas Stars, developing and getting better. He realizes Dallas is solid in goaltending at the NHL level and he’ll have to be patient waiting for his shot at the NHL to come. But he wants to make the most of that time, working to improve his game so that when his time does come he’ll be ready.

“My goal since I have been drafted is to make the Dallas Stars and I am going to work as hard as I can to show them that I am ready whenever they want me,” said Campbell. “They have two great goalies up there. Kari Lehtonen is one of the best in the NHL and Bachs (Richard Bachman) is playing great up there as well, and took that job up there. They have two great goalies, but if I am needed I want to show them that I am ready to go.”