Campbell the latest ex-Maple Leaf to excel with Oilers

EDMONTON — The talent has been streaming west for a few summers now, from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Edmonton Oilers. Sometimes it comes in the form of a rehab project, like a Tyson Barrie or Cody Ceci, others in the form of a slam-dunk purchase like Zach Hyman – an outstanding player that the Leafs simply couldn’t afford.

This fall, it’s goalkeeper Jack Campbell, who arrives at The Big E as something in between: good enough to be a legitimate NHL No. 1 in Toronto, but like so many others, heading out of The Big Smoke with a playoff resume as empty as a Mar-a-Lago file folder.

Whatever the trend, the first three ex-Leafs were excellent signings for the Oilers, and as Leon Draisaitl said of Campbell, “Let’s hope that trend continues.”

With a $25 million five-year deal to man the nets in Edmonton, Campbell is finally where he should have been all along: starting in goal for a Stanley Cup contender. Exactly what the Dallas Stars had in mind when they drafted ite general in 2010.

It took a while, to be sure. But the longer the journey, the sweeter the destination, right?

“We’re here now,” Campbell said Friday. “You know, I just want to be the best I can be.”

His nickname is, of course, ‘Soupy’. But if we’re going to plow that field, his career has been more of a cold, hearty Gazpacho than a warm, tasty bisque.

Who is this handsome, bearded ‘tendy’ to whom the Oilers have pinned their Stanley Cup hopes for the next five years?

Well, he’s the 30-year-old son of a recently retired Port Huron, Michigan distributor and wholesaler of electrical parts. The family business waited for Campbell to be the third-generation owner-operator, but he hoped to get a different charge from life: “I just wanted to play hockey.”

A confirmed ‘cat daddy’, Campbell scratched and clawed to get to where he is. While Oilers fans saw the No. 1 Taylor Hall pick on opening night that fall, Campbell would play in two NHL games over the next seven seasons, and make two East Coast League visits since draft day 2010.

Dallas traded him straight to Los Angeles for a defenseman named Nick Ebert, who has never played an NHL game. He then moved to Toronto in a trade with Kyle Clifford.

“I’ve learned a lot, I’ve been through a lot of adversity, but I think playing in Toronto and different markets I played in prepared me for this moment,” he said. “The team is ready to do special things, and my setback was, you know, I had to be prepared to do that.

‘Yes, I’m ready. I can’t wait to get started on it.”

Like Hyman before him, Campbell arrives with the “you’re gonna love this guy” guarantee from those who knew him as Leaf. He’s gentle, looks you in the eye and says “Thank you” after a media scrum, and seems like the nicest of all the guys.

It’s only September 9th, of course.

We saw last year’s goalkeeper Mike Smith bare his teeth every now and then in a quintessential Canadian market that can make an NHL player whooping, with every radio Johnny a certified goaltending expert.

Is it much different in the west than in the center of the hockey universe?

“More similarities, to be honest,” he chuckled. “They are two great fan bases and the passion that the fans in both cities have. No traffic (here). An easy drive to the ice rink.”

Campbell’s playoff resume in Toronto consists of two Game 7 defeats: a 3-1 score against Montreal and Carey Price, 2-1 against Tampa and Andrei Vasilevskiy. He was abnormally hard on himself after the loss of Tampa, a trait that probably weighed him down over the years, but Campbell’s performance was more “good enough, but not great enough” to get the suddenly low-scoring Leafs over their annual hump. to get.

But as the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And as Connor McDavid said this summer, “If you can be the starting goalkeeper in Toronto, you can be the starting goalkeeper everywhere.”

Campbell swears he’s ready for another tear in another jersey, and history — or at least recent Oilers history — says Edmonton is just as good a place to right what went wrong in the East .

“Having that chance in Toronto to be number one just made me feel like I was looking for my entire career,” Campbell said. “For Edmonton to believe in me and allow me to be here for five years and to, you know, work with this group every day and achieve amazing things.

“I’m just so excited and can’t wait to get started.”