Time Is Running Out For Jack Campbell In Dallas

The selection of Jack Campbell in the first round, 11th overall, in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is still a sore spot, maybe even an open wound, for a lot of Dallas Stars fans.

Heading into the draft that year, the Stars were in dire need of a puck-moving, offensively-capable defenseman, both in the short and long terms. Fans of the team watched in increasingly giddy astonishment as Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley, two such defensemen that were ranked very highly by most scouting services, kept falling further and further down the draft board. When the 11th overall pick came around and both players were still available it seemed like the Hockey Gods had conspired to perform a minor miracle for a Stars organization that was at a point where it really needed one.

And then…the Stars took Campbell.

It was, by no means, a necessarily bad pick at the time. Campbell entered the draft that year on the wings of two spectacular international showings, winning gold medals at both the 2010 IIHF World U18 Championships and the 2010 World Junior Championships. He was considered the best goalie available that year, and was generally projected to go somewhere around the spot that he ended up.

But he wasn’t the great, home run steal of a pick that many considered either Fowler or Gormley to be. Even the panel of expert hockey analysts that were covering the draft live for TSN that year – Bob McKenzie, Pierre McGuire and Gord Miller – were dumbfounded that the two continued to slip, with McGuire specifically questioning Dallas’ decision to skip them:

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“What’s their organizational need?” he asked. “We’ve talked about them missing the playoffs two straight years. Clearly their organizational need is not in goal.”

Fast forward five years and that initial disappointment for Stars fans has only worsened, not improved.

Sure, Gormley isn’t particularly thriving at this point. After eventually being selected by the Phoenix Coyotes at 13th, Gormley is now with the Colorado Avalanche and is stuck in a limited depth role, and only has four points in 50 career NHL games. He’s a decent young player, but he’s fallen short of where most pundits expected him to be at this point in his development.

Fowler, who was taken one pick after Campbell in 12th, is exactly as advertised, an exceptional puck-moving blueliner. While he still has some warts to fix in his game, especially when it comes to defending his own zone, he still has 160 points and 372 games on his resume so far in his young career.

As for Campbell? The 23 year old has only appeared in one NHL game, a 6-goal shellacking in 2013, and it’s starting to look murky as to whether or not he’s going to even get another shot at hockey’s highest level.

Campbell is off to a very rough start to his 2015-16 season, playing for the AHL’s Texas Stars. He currently has a losing record of 3-4-1, but even more concerning are his more personal numbers: a 4.27 goals against average and a .862 save percentage. While Texas as a group has been having defensive issues this season, Campbell’s save percentage is significantly lower than that of the other two goalies that have played an almost identical amount of ice time for the team, John Muse (.915 save percentage) and Maxime Lagace (.905).

Were his current numbers an aberration, a trend away from the norm, they might not be such a problem. However, Campbell has been a wildly inconsistent goalie since he was drafted. An .884 save percentage for the Windsor Spitfires in his debut OHL season in 2010-11, but tournament honors as the best goalie at that season’s World Juniors. A stellar .942 save percentage in an injury-limited 16-game season in 2013-14, but then a .907 save percentage the very next year, which also included a seven-game stint in the ECHL because his play had slipped to a distressing level.

With no older goalie on an NHL contract to split starting duties, as he had the previous three seasons, Campbell was given the reins as the de facto number one goalie for Texas this season, which only exacerbates how disappointing his play has been thus far and puts into place some considerable doubt about what kind of ceiling his career has. After all, if Campbell can’t find success as a number one goalie in the AHL, what does that say about his potential to be a goalie, even just a backup, in the NHL?

In his defense, Campbell is still just 23, and goalies take a lot longer to develop than players at other positions. At the same time, though, the Stars have been very patient with him since he was drafted, and one has to wonder just how much patience the organization still has left unless he can really take charge of his situation. Campbell is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and in need of a new contract, while Dallas’ one-two punch of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, which has been working wonders for the team, are both signed for two more years beyond this one.

There’s still time for Campbell to turn things around, both for this season as well as his career in general. The big question is how much of that time will be afforded to him in Dallas.