Sometimes, it is not about how you start, but how you adjust.
It might have taken awhile, but Jack Campbell has finally found his NHL footing after emphasizing more on the latter as opposed to dwelling on the former.
Of course, it did not start out that way for him. After all, the 29-year-old certainly knew his way around a professional hockey rink heading into the 2020-21 season. After getting drafted by the Dallas Stars 10th-overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the Port Huron, Michigan native had to grind through the AHL and ECHL for two seasons before inevitably getting traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 2016.
Life with Los Angeles was much more productive from an NHL production standpoint. In four seasons with the Kings (2016-17 to 2019-20), Campbell went 20-24-5 and compiled a 2.51 Goals Against Average (GAA) with a .918 Save Percentage (Sv%) in 57 games played (49 GS).
But Campbell still did not fully settle with a team quite yet. Another trade, this time to the Toronto Maple Leafs, occurred midway through his final season with the Kings.
And so, a solid 2019-20 stint with the Maple Leafs followed by an even better 2020-21 campaign with the team transformed Campbell into the go-to goaltender heading into Toronto’s first-round Stanley Cup Playoff matchup against the Montreal Canadiens.
On paper, one would not have worried too much about Campbell’s postseason potential – in 22 games played (22 GS) during the 2020-21 regular season, Campbell went 17-3-2 with a 2.15 GAA, .921 Sv% and two shutouts. In six games played (six GS) against the Canadiens during the regular season, Campbell was 4-1-1 with a 2.16 GAA and .918 Sv%.
While this was certainly solid enough to keep Toronto fans somewhat confident, there was one major caveat – Campbell had zero postseason experience.
Given Toronto’s recent postseason success (or, well, lack thereof), one could understand the concern. After all, the franchise was practically putting all their Stanley Cup chips into the basket of a former journeyman.
However, if Campbell’s first handful of playoff games are any indication, all concerns should be thrown out of the rink and banned for the duration. Why? Well, simple – he has been pretty good.
Heading into May 27 action, Campbell has started in all four of Toronto’s playoff games and has amassed a 1.01 GAA, .965 Sv% and one shutout. Among 18 playoff goaltenders to start at least two postseason games through May 26, Campbell’s GAA ranks second (Boston’s Tuukka Rask ranks first with a 1.00 GAA). Campbell’s Sv%, meanwhile, also ranks second (Rask again ranked first with a .967 Sv%).
Some would certainly say that ranking second is a fancy way of being called the first loser. However, keep in mind that this is Campbell’s first taste of postseason action at the NHL level.
Why is this significant? Well, let’s quickly delve into the histories, shall we?
Dating back to 1918, Campbell is one of only five goaltenders in Maple Leaf history to collect one shutout within their first four career postseason games (John Ross Roach in 1922, Turk Broda in 1938, Frank McCool in 1945, Wayne Thomas in 1976 and Campbell in 2021). What puts Campbell in even more elite company is when you consider his GAA – Campbell is one of only two Toronto goaltenders to ever tally one shutout and amass a 1.25 GAA or less within their first four postseason games played (Broda in 1938).
Campbell’s journey might not have been the smoothest in the world, but one fact is practically certain as everything currently stands – he has found himself a home in Toronto, and regardless of how the veteran does from this point onward, this is just good enough.
It just took a little adjusting.