LOS ANGELES — Jack Campbell is preposterously humble.
In the span of 10 minutes on Thursday, the young goalie talked about being honored to be ranked by the majority of NHL draft observers as its top goaltender. He's honored to be mentioned in mock drafts. He's honored to be compared to Calvin Pickard, considered the next-best keeper in the draft. He'd be honored to face the best players in the NHL, and he'll be honored to play for whichever team drafts him (with the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes showing the most interest, he's honored to say).
The whole thing might seem prepackaged if he weren't so damn earnest about it all. Campbell's the kind of wide-eyed 18-year-old that can drop lines like "I worked hard for this my whole live. It's kind of a dream come true" and not be met with eye-rolling.
Despite being the most important player on the ice, goalies aren't typically the most popular investment for a team with a high first-round pick. The last keeper taken in the top 15 was Jonathan Bernier(notes) by the Los Angeles Kings in 2006. As Cory Lavalette pointed out on From The Rink, only seven of the league's 30 starting goalies last season were first-round picks.
So Campbell enters the draft with that history working against him; but his intangibles could be enough to overcome it.
Campbell gained instant fame in hockey circles with his heart-stopping play in the U.S.'s gold medal victory over Canada in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship last January.
"Ah, no, absolutely not. John Carlson's an absolute stud. I think John has the edge right now," he said.
Then he gained some infamy, opting for junior hockey over the NCAA. From NHL.com:
The Spitfires originally selected Campbell in the sixth round of the 2008 OHL draft, but he elected to join the U.S. National Team Development Program prior to playing at the University of Michigan. However, after two years and a raft of gold medals and trophies, Campbell decided earlier this season to forgo college for the Canadian junior route.
"I was 100 percent going to college," Campbell said, "however, the National Team Development Program really accelerated my development, putting my goals quicker to where I could reach them, and that's playing in the National Hockey League."
It's a stance he defended again before the draft here in L.A. "Michigan would have been a great fit, but I'm a hockey player," said Campbell. "My passion is hockey. I want to play in there [for] 60 games and then an NHL-type playoff schedule. And being around guys who won Stanley Cups, like coach [Bob] Boughner and coach [Warren] Rychel.
"It was extremely tough. The last thing I wanted to do was go back on my word to Michigan."
But he's made his choice, and now a team will make a choice on him. Campbell was asked to draw the distinction between his game and that of Pickard.
"I haven't really seen Calvin play that much. I know he's a fantastic goalie and great for the NHL. To be up there with him is an honor," he said. "I'm an athletic goalie and he's a big guy who plays his angles really well."
"Athletic" can sometimes mean unorthodox, which is why Campbell admits he has some aspects of his game to improve upon. From Neate Sager:
"I would say my patience when it comes to making the first save and the recovery. It's technical, but that's what comes to mind. It's about making the first save and staying down. I get too excited and I want the puck too bad sometimes so I don't use the proper recovery. In the world juniors, as you saw, I was really scrambly against Canada. I've really learned from that, worked hard and now I've eliminated that problem."
The waiting game is almost over for Campbell. The last hours will be used to narrow down the choices as the draft commences. Who went before him? Who needs a keeper?
"It's something my agent and I have been looking at for the last couple of weeks," said Campbell. "I know there are some teams that don't need a goalie as much as others. Wherever I end up going, it'll be an honor."