Maple Leafs’ Jack Campbell Proving His NHL Potential

Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell

If you had told me I would be writing about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation in the 2020-21 NHL season, I would have assumed the goalie I’d be covering was Frederik Andersen. Perhaps something about how he’s taken his game to a whole new level, maybe about how he’s regressed just a little bit. Not for one second did I think I would be writing about Jack Campbell, who has had himself a storybook season so far, and looks well-suited to be the next starter of the Maple Leafs. Suffice it to say the former Dallas Stars draft pick is finally living up to his full NHL potential.

Campbell’s Road to the NHL Hasn’t Been Easy

Campbell’s name has been in the hat of “future starting goalies” for a long time; the Port Huron, Michigan native was drafted way back in the 2010 NHL draft, taken in the first round at 11th overall by the Stars. At six-foot-two and 197 lbs, Campbell is built like the prototypical goalie, and plays a fundamentally sound style in his crease.

The young goalie would only start one game for the team that drafted him, however, suiting up and hitting the ice for the Stars in the 2013-14 season. He would spend some time in the AHL with the Texas Stars before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings for Nick Ebert, on June 25, 2016.

Even on a new team, Campbell didn’t make an immediate impact; in fact, he wasn’t even given much of a chance until Kings’ brass had their hands forced. It was a few more years before Campbell saw any real NHL action, but when he did, he came onto the scene in big fashion. On February 27, 2018, against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, Campbell earned his first NHL win in a 4-1 victory over the eventual Stanley Cup Finalists. He made 41 saves in the effort.

Jack Campbell with the Los Angeles Kings, 2018.
Jack Campbell with the Los Angeles Kings, 2018. (Tony Avelar / Associated Press, via Los Angeles Times)

In five games backing up Jonathan Quick, Campbell went 2-0-2, with a 2.47 goals against average (GAA) and .924 save percentage (SV%), numbers good enough for any backup role in the NHL.

Campbell spent four seasons with the Kings, playing a career-high 31 games in the 2018-19 season, before being shipped to Toronto in a package deal with teammate Kyle Clifford, in exchange for Trevor Moore, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ third-round pick in the 2020 draft (previously acquired), and a conditional pick in the 2021 draft on February 5, 2020.

Andersen’s Slump Is Campbell’s Opportunity

When the Maple Leafs acquired Andersen more than five seasons ago, they were at the bottom of the NHL standings and were just beginning the team’s rebuild. When that rebuild turned out to be a faster process than some might have expected, Andersen fit in quite nicely with the young Leafs roster, adding some stability from his time in Anaheim when the Ducks were atop league standings.

Now in his fifth season with the club, Andersen is having his status as the bonafide number one goalie challenged for the first time in a Leafs sweater. In the 2020-21 season, Andersen is 13-8-2 through 23 games played, and has a 2.91 GAA and .897 SV%. This is the first time his SV% has been below .900 during his Leafs tenure.

Jack Campbell makes a save on Ottawa Senators forward Evgenii Dadonov.
Jack Campbell makes a save on Ottawa Senators forward Evgenii Dadonov. (Sportsnet)

Andersen has started 60+ games three out of five seasons for the Leafs, and likely would have surpassed the same mark were last season not stopped short due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Andersen has faltered this season, though, and every bad performance in the NHL can inch a player closer and closer to being replaced if they keep it up for too long. Andersen’s struggles might just have opened the door for Campbell’s emergence this season.

Campbell has played less than half the number of games Andersen has played so far this season, with just 10. However, in those 10 games, he is a perfect 10-0-0, with a 1.57 GAA and .944 SV%, plus two shutouts. To put those numbers in perspective, Campbell ranks second among all NHL goalie with 4 or more games played in GAA, third in SV%, and is tied for eighth in shutouts.

In his career, Campbell is 33-27-6 through 74 games played, with a 2.43 GAA, .920 SV%, and four shutouts.

Campbell Sets Maple Leafs, NHL Record

With 10 straight wins to start the 2020-21 season, Campbell set a Maple Leafs record for most consecutive wins by a goaltender in franchise history, and set an NHL record for most consecutive wins to start a season in NHL history.

In a conversation with Sportsnet after making 32 saves to win his 10th game of the season, Campbell said “It’s been a long journey,” visibly holding back tears and choking up as he watched his teammates celebrate his milestone on the jumbotron.

“Just to have their support, every single guy, it’s crazy. It’s a dream come true. Something I worked very hard for, and there’s not a day I don’t thank the lord for putting me in Toronto with these amazing guys.”

Maple Leafs Outlook With Campbell Starting

At the time of writing, the Maple Leafs have played 40 games this season, amassing a 27-10-3 record and 57 points in the standings, good for first in the NHL and the best start to a season in the franchise’s storied history. Were this a full, 82-game season, the Maple Leafs would be on pace for a 117-point season.

The team currently has a goal differential (GD) of +33, good for second behind only the Colorado Avalanche, who have a +45 GD. The Leafs have now won five games in a row, and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They are seven points ahead of the next-best team in their division, the Edmonton Oilers (50).

As the NHL Trade Deadline draws nearer and nearer, rumors are circulating that the Maple Leafs could consider placing Andersen on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), due to Campbell’s exceptional play and in order to clear salary cap space to acquire a rental player and make a Cup run. If that happens, and the possibility is always there, the Maple Leafs’ crease would effectively be Campbell’s and Campbell’s only.

Were that to happen, the Maple Leafs would be in good hands heading into the playoffs.

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