Now in his 16th NHL season, Brian Campbell still has a few tricks up his sleeve and is a vital part on the blue line of the improving Florida Panthers. Not only has he not missed a game during his time with the Panthers (spanning 327 games from 2011-present), but also he is learning from his 19-year-old defense partner — reigning Calder Trophy-winner and stud defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Wait that can’t be right; shouldn’t it be the other way around? We’ll have to get to the bottom of that later.
The Panthers have only made the playoffs once during Campbell’s tenure in South Florida, his first season there, but last year they missed by just seven points; and this season many expected the team to contend for a playoff spot — which they currently are through the season’s first 33 games. That first season with the Cats resulted in a career-high in points (53) following a trade from the team he had finally won a Stanley Cup with — a cap-casualty on the Chicago Blackhawks; after a successful seven-plus years with the Buffalo Sabres. He’s now closing in on 1,000 NHL games played (currently 953) and is also nearing 500 career points (468).
Following the Panthers’ second trip to New Jersey in less than two weeks The Hockey Writers was able to catch up with Brian Campbell aka the man his teammates’ refer to as Soupy — for obvious reasons — to find out a little bit about the resurgence of the Panthers and if Ekblad is really helping him or if the young star assisting the old vet.
The Hockey Writers: How important was this 5-1 win for your team, following up on the big win on the road against the New York Islanders two nights earlier?
Brian Campbell: Yeah, big, because we are trying to beat some teams ahead of us (in the standings); I think we’ve had a little bit of a tough time beating some teams ahead of us. Obviously we were two points in back of these guys (the Devils) going into tonight; we knew the importance of it. We wanted to make a statement for our team — just to say that we can do this and win some games – we lost to Boston last weekend, which was a game we need to have. Hopefully we can keep moving forward with this.
THW: Your team was here twelve days ago, was there any changes as far as your game plan coming in here again after having a rough go last time (4-2 loss)?
BC: Don’t get off to as bad a start (grins); we started playing better in the second and third period against them last time. That start pretty much put us in a massive hole that we tried to get out of, and had some chances, but we didn’t get it done. This was a big outing for us and obviously Al Montoya playing in net played great again for us — he’s been doing that all season. Tonight was huge.
THW: You’ve been with the Panthers a few years now, do you you feel you are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as this team starting to become more consistent and a threat in the Eastern Conference?
BC: Yeah, I think so, the young guys are taking the team over a little bit; actually a lot. We have (Aleksander) Barkov, and (Jonathan) Huberdeau; obviously Ekblad — those guys, it’s their team and we have to follow their lead as veteran guys. (Vincent) Trocheck has played well, Reilly Smith coming over (from Boston). We’re starting to see those guys take on some leadership, you know, be the horses for this team.
THW: You mentioned Ekblad who has been phenomenal in his first 114 NHL games. As a veteran guy is their anything specific you’ve helped him with to ease that transition to the NHL or that maybe he has come to you for guidance about?
BC: We’ve played together, pretty much the whole time (he’s been here) except for the last five games; coach switched things up and we’ve been going good. I’ve learned a lot from him. I hope he’s learned stuff from me. I think I’ve improved my defensive play over my career, and he’s very good at such a young age; for even being an offensive guy. He’s getting better and better, hopefully he learned a few things from me, but we get along so well together. I’m lucky to say that I’ve played with him, honestly, he’s a great kid and he keeps working hard. He’s going to be a superstar. If he’s not already.
Aaron Ekblad’s first NHL goal…primary assist to Brian Campbell:
THW: You played in Buffalo and Chicago mainly before coming here; what are your memories of those places?
BC: Really good memories. We had a couple of really good teams in Buffalo, there that…it stings a bit, that we didn’t win. Chicago, obviously we won there. That was the pinnacle of everything for me and my career. They are both great places with great fans and I was lucky to play in those two cities.
THW: What are your memories from your day with the Stanley Cup?
BC: There was a lot of hard work and a lot of memories that I thought about, my family. It was nice to sit back and be happy with such a tremendous accomplishment in my career at that point.
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.