Entering the 2021-22 NHL season, it’d be naive to think that Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jack Campbell didn’t have more to prove.
Drafted back in 2010 by the Dallas Stars, Campbell took the long road to the NHL and cementing his place as a starter in the league. Even today, some question his place as a starter with the Maple Leafs – ranking him and Petr Mrazek as the 14th best tandem in the league.
Now, some will argue that 14th isn’t awful, but considering what Campbell did for the Maple Leafs last season – coming in when Frederik Andersen went down – it’s a small shot to a goalie that fought tooth and nail to get where he is today.
Still, the sample size isn’t huge for the 29-year-old. Since he was drafted in 2010, he’s played just 91 games – starting 82 of them – with a 42-31-9 record, a 2.46 goals against average (GAA) and .917 save percentage (SV%) with four shutouts to go along with that. Those numbers span over parts of seven seasons, after he debuted with the Stars in 2013-14.
So, what does Campbell have to prove?
Maple Leafs’ Campbell Isn’t Just a Fluke
Well, if you’re like me, you’ll agree that Campbell has absolutely nothing to prove. He’s coming off a season in which he played 22 games for the Maple Leafs with a 17-3-2 record, a 2.15 GAA and .921 SV% with two shutouts.
But, this is Leafs Nation and the naysayers what to know if it was just a once-off for Campbell, or if he’s the true 1A starter that he showed he could be last season.
Last season was the first time since 2018-19 with the Los Angeles Kings that he played more than 20 games and it was the first time he has been looked upon as a true starter. With Andersen down, the Maple Leafs were looking for another goalie to step up. It came down to Campbell and Michael Hutchinson – a battle that Campbell ultimately stole and ran with.
For some, Campbell’s impeccable numbers put him in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy, but it was hard to outdo what Marc-Andre Fleury, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Philipp Grubauer did for their respective teams. Still, while he wasn’t amongst those actually voted for the award, his calm demeanour and respected qualities on and off the ice earned him some votes for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy – finishing in 38th with one fifth and one third place vote.
Following the season he had, the Maple Leafs moved on from Andersen. They brought in Mrazek and Campbell seems to be the go-to as the starter in Toronto. And so far, he’s shown that he’s no fluke.
“He looks great,” said forward Alex Kerfoot, according to TSN’s Mark Masters. “He looks like he’s out here to prove he can do it for a full 82 games. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Sure, the Maple Leafs are just six games into the new season, but Campbell has played in five of the first six games with a 2-1-1 record and nine goals against. That’s good enough for a 2.22 GAA and a .916 SV% to start the year.
While there’s still a lot of hockey left to play in the regular season, Campbell also got his first taste of playoff hockey in 2020-21, playing all seven games for the Maple Leafs in their first-round loss to the Montreal Canadiens, and it was a learning opportunity for the goaltender.
Jack Campbell is Playoff Ready
It was possibly the hardest way to learn a new lesson for the first-time playoff goaltender. Up 3-1 in the series, the Maple Leafs fell apart and lost to their rival Canadiens in seven games – Campbell giving up what he called ‘the worst goal of his career’ in the Amazon Prime series All or Nothing.
For anyone who watched that series, you got a better feel for Campbell behind the scenes. The type of guy he is, the teammate he is with the other players in the room and how much he takes pride in his craft.
One of the closing scenes on the Amazon series was of Campbell, following the devastating loss in Game 7, crying in the Maple Leafs locker room. Consoled by veteran Jason Spezza, he spoke of how bad he felt with the Brendan Gallagher goal he gave up and how he wanted to come back better – to get back at it and help the team in 2021-22.
While most of Leafs Nation was devastated by the loss – switching allegiances, burning jerseys or mourning in their own way – it was a hard lesson for a goalie who had never seen that level of play at the NHL level to date.
Now, his confidence battered and bruised and healed from the scars that were left by the Canadiens, Campbell has the experience under his belt. He’s playoff tested. He’s seen the extra step he needs to put in his game to play at that level and he’s come back and started off well this season. I’d be shocked to see the Campbell of 2020-21 when the playoffs roll around this season.
Maple Leafs’ Campbell Will Prove His Worth
Like I said at the beginning of the article, fans will be split on whether or not Campbell has anything to prove. To his teammates, it seems he’s already done that and rightfully so. To the fans, well, they can make their own decision on whether or not they believe in his numbers from last year and to open this season.
When it comes to Campbell having to prove anything, the only people he has to prove it to are the voters at the NHL who ranked him and Mrazek as the 14th best tandem in the league and to himself – who, if you’ve seen the way he takes responsibility for losses, might be his biggest critic.
Other than that, Soupy seems to be on his game to open the Maple Leafs’ regular season and the team knows that he’s going to bring his best on a nightly basis in 2021-22.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.