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The Great Jack Campbell Reclamation Project

The Great Jack Campbell Reclamation Project

Jack Campbell arrived with the Los Angeles Kings this summer as one of the biggest reclamation projects in the league.

He had no idea what his style was anymore. He had a poor save percentage, sporadic starts, and had fallen down a depth chart with the Dallas Stars at an alarming rate.

To try and get an idea of where they were at, goaltending coach Dusty Imoo had Campbell – known among his teammates and coaches as ‘Soupy’ – go out on the ice. He wanted to see where the holes were in Campbell’s game, to see what kind of style the netminder had, so he could start to work on a plan for getting his game back.

It took him almost no time to figure out what was wrong.

Campbell spends his summers practicing with Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck – and after watching the fellow netminder meet with so much success in the NCAA, then the AHL and NHL, he’d tried to mimic his style.

Imoo, who had worked with Hellebuyck on the St. John’s Ice Caps a year prior, saw the shadowing attempt immediately.

Campbell told Imoo that he’d tried mirroring Hellebuyck because he no longer knew what worked for him; if something was working for the fellow Michigan native, he hoped it would work for him, too.

The problem?

Hellebuyck stands a considerable bit bigger and heavier than Campbell, and his style works only for him. His stance is unique and somewhat awkward; Hellebuyck is comfortable playing like he does, but few others would be.

Including Campbell.

It started when he didn’t hit the NHL at age 19.

Campbell was considered the hottest goaltending prospect in USA Hockey – and potentially the NHL – when he was selected in the first round of the 2010 Draft. The world had high expectations for him, and he took them seriously – too seriously. He was a hard worker, and he fully planned to hit whatever goals the world set for him.

When he was stuck in the AHL for his first full pro season, it frustrated him. He was his own worst critic, and the slide began then.

One NHL game in the 2013-14 season went poorly for Campbell; that added to his frustration.

By the 2015-16 season, Campbell was splitting his time between the AHL and the ECHL. His 2015 appearance on Team USA at the World Championships was unremarkable, and he was passed by (ironically enough) by Hellebuyck as the team’s number one. He was dealt to the Kings in the summer of 2016 as a shell of his former playing self.

That was where Imoo came into the picture.

Imoo told InGoal that he knew the now 24-year-old Campbell would be a huge project, but the first thing he did was make hockey fun again for the young netminder.

“He was at the point,” Imoo said, “where things would start the moment he got to the rink on game day. He couldn’t relax with his teammates, he was so busy focusing on the game; by the time 5:00 rolled around, he was so wired up that the first goal against would unravel him.”

That’s the first thing fans will notice about Campbell when they watch him this season with the Ontario Reign. Where a bad goal used to mean the end of his night, he’s found the ability to shake it off this year.

The perfect example of this occurred on a Friday night in Tucson, Arizona.

The Roadrunners, who serve as the AHL affiliate for the Arizona Coyotes, came out swinging that night. They found the back of the net early in the first period on the man advantage, then fired two more pucks past Campbell to go up 3-0 after 20 minutes.

They didn’t allow another goal for nearly the rest of the game.

Campbell came out for the second period calmer than he had the first, hitting his marks and tracking the puck like the game was still tied at nil. He would ultimately allow a last-minute goal to tie up the game at four goals apiece, then allow an overtime winner for Tucson – but in what was an uncharacteristically poor appearance for him this season, he held his composure and kept the game close enough to go to extra minutes.

That was only the first part of Imoo’s restoration job, though.

Before Campbell lost his identity, his biggest strength was considered to be his athleticism in reactionary saves. His positioning needed work, but his ability to react to the play and make the save was considered to be second to none in his draft class.

As his coaches worked on improving his game, though, his frustration at not advancing through the pro levels fast enough made him second-guess himself. For a reaction-reliant goaltender, that’s practically the kiss of death.

Imoo is working on the technical aspects of his game plenty, and things like his tracking are still a work in progress. Deciding when to play deep and when to play out has also been an area where he’s working to improve, while his angles and post overlap still show signs of immaturity in game play.

The biggest thing that Imoo and Campbell have worked on, though, is getting the prospect back to where he started – so he can move up from there, rather than ground level.

He’s not the biggest project the Kings have in their system.

Behind Campbell, the Kings have a pair of even rawer goaltenders they’re working on. Imoo’s son Jonah, who is currently with the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs, is still developing his game – and Jack Flinn, who has split his time between the ECHL and Ontario, may need even more work. He’s got a 6 foot 8 frame, but mediocre numbers out of the OHL that will need improvement at the pro level.

The Kings nearly depleted their goaltending stores over the last few years, though.

They sent Jonathan Bernier to Toronto, then Ben Scrivens to Edmonton. Then went Martin Jones to Boston (who dealt him to San Jose), followed by the loss of JF Berube on waivers.

They’ve drafted two goaltenders since 2011, when they picked up Christopher Gibson – whom they failed to sign. One of those, Patrik Bartosak, is playing in the Czech league. The other, Alec Dillon, recorded a sub-.900 save percentage with the Edmonton Oil Kings last season and hasn’t played a game this year for them.

As a result, Campbell is currently number one in their prospect depth chart. He’s back to where he was three years ago, when he sat atop the chart for the Dallas Stars. He’s back to where he was before he got inside his own head.

Now, when he arrives at the rink, he chats with his teammates. He gets dressed for a game, thinks about what he’s been working on in his play, and skates out on the ice.

When he lets in his first goal, though, he just shakes it off. He and Imoo are making hockey fun again – and for those watching, it’s starting to show.

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