Friday, April 23, 2010

He's golden

Goaltender Jack Campbell is anything but soup.

One year ago, he backstopped Team USA to a World Under-18 gold medal on home soil at age 17. Exactly one year later, he did it again in Belarus. And in between, he came up huge against Team Canada to help USA to only its second gold medal ever at the World Junior Championship (Under-20) tourney in Saskatoon.

As if his size and athleticism wasn't already reason enough to have him solidly inside the first round of next June's NHL draft, the fact that he's the biggest winner for USA Hockey in history is going to count for an awful lot.

Goalies are tough to project...six years ago, Al Montoya was the guy in the U.S. nets when his team won its first gold at the WJC in Finland. He went top-10 (sixth) in the 2004 NHL draft to the New York Rangers and ended up being a bust.

Campbell could bring similar risk, but after having seen him play this season, I don't think too many teams will pass him up. He has that rare combination of ability and poise. 13 consecutive periods of shutout hockey is impressive in any league because of the focus, pure concentration, execution and yes, luck it requires. But to do it on the world stage? Repeatedly? Against the best competition in your global peer group?

Unheard of.

In fact, one NHL insider at the tournament told me today that Campbell was "freakishly good" and that he's a lock to go inside the top-15, if not the top-10.

The Port Huron, Michigan native was slated to attend the University of Michigan in the fall (ironically-- the same school Montoya attended), but shifted gears and committed to the OHL's Windsor Spitfires instead. Looks like Warren Rychel and Bob Boughner knew exactly what they were doing with this kid when they woo'd him away from Red Berenson and the Wolverines.

I don't have a crystal ball to be able to look ahead five years to see if Campbell will be as good as advertised, but it's hard to believe given his amazing play in high-pressure situation after high-pressure situation over the last 365 days that he won't be a real gamer at the NHL level one day.

In just two weeks, Campbell vaulted over Calvin Pickard to be the goaltender who will be picked first in 2010. And with the way he's played, he could very well be the highest netminder picked since Carey Price went fifth overall to Montreal in 2005.

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