The benefits were immediate.
For the past few seasons, Arizona Coyotes’ coach Dave Tippett’s search for a left-handed shot and a defensive defenseman as one player was fruitless. Over the last couple of years, Tippett could turn to Derek Morris, Michal Rozsival or Zbynek Michalek, but all are right-handed shots. Plus, Tippett desperately looked for a rugged blue-liner and who was not afraid to, in the words of Tippett, “deny space.”
The answer may have come too late to salvage this season, but the presence of Andrew Campbell could have an impact.
Already, Campbell is the first out to kill a penalty and could be found patrolling the blue line and in front of his net during the final minutes of a period.
“You take pride of your work around the net and that’s something I love,” Campbell said after a recent practice. “Since I starting playing as a kid, I’ve always enjoyed clearing in front of my own net and playing a strong, defensive game.”
Languishing in the Kings’ minor league organization since drafted on the third round in the 2008 draft, Campbell was clearly caught in a traffic jam. While the Kings ascended to the top of the NHL world and captured two Stanley Cups, Campbell could not break into the line-up. Though recalled for the proverbial “cup of coffee” last season and appeared in three game for Los Angeles, Campbell was resigned to seize an opportunity.
selecting the Coyotes
Last summer when the 27-year-old native of Caledonia, Ont. reached free agency, he searched league rosters and ascertained the club which gave him the best chance to play at the NHL level. Though several offers came, Campbell chose the Coyotes, but did not survive training camp.
Instead, he was back in the AHL and this time with the Portland Pirates, the Coyotes’ top minor league affiliate. After 40 games with the Pirates, Campbell was called up on Jan. 26 and immediately paired with right-handed shot Connor Murphy.
Campbell and Murphy, both at 6-4, complement one another in size and reach. According to Campbell, that’s an important physical component of their collective game.
“(Campbell) is hard to play against because of his size,” Murphy said. “I think we’re similar players and his reach is so important for a defenseman. Overall, I think we make a good pairing and play well together.”
What makes Campbell valuable at the blue line as well as in front of the net is an ability to position his body. By his own admission, Campbell enjoys tying up opponents in from of his goaltender and aggressively challenges players behind his net and in the corners.
“There’s a fine line between between nasty and aggressive,” Campbell pointed out. “You have to be smart and know how to play your position wisely. I guess in time players will trust me more and more.”
While Campbell continues to hone his craft, he is a sponge in absorbing information. Taking aside after practice by assistant coach Jim Playfair, who works with defensemen,for additional coaching, Campbell is gradually gaining a reputation as a go-to defenseman.
“You need players like Campbell to win,” said Tippett. “He’s particularly good in the one-on-one battles. Plus, for us, he’s a left-handed shot and that’s a combination we have searched for some time.”
Campbell represents a plethora of players with NHL-level skill but never given an opportunity to crack into the league. Now, Campbell is part of a sizable amount of rookies which Tippett and Don Maloney, the team’s general manager, hope can resurrect an ailing franchise.
Follow Mark Brown on Twitter, @journalist193
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.