Coming into the season, Jack Campbell’s role with the Toronto Maple Leafs was clear- be the best and most reliable backup Frederik Andersen has had since Curtis McElhinney.
The amazing story that played out couldn’t have been more different than what had been drawn up, in the best way possible, because Jack Campbell finally hit his potential.
Originally drafted by the Dallas Stars in 2010 with talk around the league watercoolers describing him as a kid who has ice in his veins and was projected to be a near-elite starter, once he developed, Campbell struggled mightily to establish himself in the world of professional hockey, due in no small part to injuries and debilitating confidence issues, but now, he has fully arrived. One small side note before we begin, if you have a subscription to The Athletic, I highly recommend reading James Mirtle’s profile on Campbell from April 5th. In this amazing feature, Mirtle explores Campbell’s journey from his childhood all the way up to him taking the starter’s role in Toronto. It was the kind of writing that I (a journalism student) strive to achieve at some point in my career.
Campbell appeared in 22 regular season games for the Leafs and amassed a 17-3-2 record, recording two shutouts along the way and one NHL record for most consecutive wins from the start of a season with 11 (albeit spread over three months because of an injury). He played in all seven of the team’s playoff games and by many metrics, outperformed Carey Price. It was the best playoff goaltending the Leafs have seen in ages and the team in front of him absolutely squandered it (a fact I am still very, very bitter about).
Let’s not mince words here, Andersen was bad in his (likely) final season as a Leaf, and even without him suffering an injury that sidelined him for nearly two months, Campbell, with his sterling stats and sunny disposition, would have supplanted Andersen as the starter by playoff time. And though he does allow a few goals you wish he would have saved, I personally feel more comfortable with him between the pipes than I have been with Andersen for several years. I was certainly comfortable enough in his abilities to invest in this:
— Dylan Murphy (@dylanmurphy329) April 22, 2021
One advanced metric I want to draw specific mention to is his Goals Saved Above Expected. For the everyday person who doesn’t know what this is, GSAx is an objective measurement of the number of goals a goaltender has saved compared to the number of goals they’re expected to have allowed based on the quality of shots they have faced. Campbell’s GSAx this season was 8.85 (according to PuckPedia), placing him at 9th on the league-wide leaderboard for that metric.
While he’s not the biggest guy, Campbell makes up for that with sheer athleticism and simply makes saves that his counterparts in the Toronto net, both this past season and the year before, were not making. His .921 save percentage speaks for itself (Campbell was 9th overall in the league in this metric as well among goaltenders that played in 15 or more games). All the statistics show that Campbell was among the greats at his position this season. If he can replicate that next year (and keep breaking out beautiful saves like the one I’m attaching below) then the Michigan native will step fully into legend status.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I believe that Jack Campbell, like Justin Holl before him, is a late-bloomer who came into his prime at exactly the time he was needed most. He is absolutely the starter for next season, a core member of this team, and one of the most genuinely nice guys in professional hockey. In case you forgot, have a look at this gem of an interview
Jack Campbell who is now 10-0-0, setting a record, interview
— David Nestico (@davidnestico200) April 8, 2021
My final observation about Soupy is a bit of a hot take, but I think that, over a full 82-game season, Campbell can be even better as he gains further experience as a full-time NHL starter. Kyle Dubas may want to consider drafting up a contract extension this offseason rather than next because I don’t think his next contract will be as affordable as his current $1.65 million cap hit.