The lows are easy to pinpoint for Jack Campbell.
There were those days when he would head home to Cedar Park, Texas, wondering where his career was going. Two years ago, he was playing for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL.
“That was pretty interesting,” Campbell said. “Obviously there were some days in Texas where I wasn’t enjoying it.”
It’s not a comment on those places or teams so much as how far Campbell had fallen since he was the 11th pick in the 2010 draft, which took place at Staples Center, where, eight long years later, Campbell returned Saturday as goalie for the Kings.
The team anointed him as the backup to Jonathan Quick when they traded Darcy Kuemper to the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday. Campbell earned the job through an overhaul of his game and a re-build of his confidence following his trade to the Kings from the Dallas Stars in June 2016. Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford remembers he took Campbell out to eat and saw someone who needed to get to a better place mentally.
Ranford found that ironic considering Campbell’s history of winning. About a decade ago, Campbell was seen as the next great American goalie. He was a fixture in the U.S. development program and the winning goalie in the U.S. upset of Canada in the 2010 World Junior Championships.
But it didn’t translate to professional hockey. Campbell. 26, spent six seasons in the Dallas organization and played in one NHL game before his trade to the Kings.
“I went online,” Ranford said. “I grabbed a few books because he was real hard on himself, and found a couple of books for him to read. Just positive [self-help material]. The biggest thing was he did not know what he was as a goalie.”
Ranford cued up video of Campbell in junior hockey and suggested he go back to that stance. Kings goalie development coach Dusty Imoo also helped him work on his position around the goal posts and play behind the goal line. For Campbell, it was also about rebooting off the ice.
“When I first got here, it was more just about enjoying life and not being so wrapped up in results,” Campbell said. “I always expect to win. I got a little bit too focused on winning and losing, and not about enjoying playing and just enjoying life.”
Campbell’s career renaissance began with the Ontario Reign last season. He recorded five shutouts with a 2.52 goals-against average. Campbell pushed Kuemper in training camp but had to go back to Ontario and toiled for his chance.
Both of Campbell’s recalls this season happened to be for games against Dallas. The hockey gods have a funny way of bringing players full circle. Campbell can appreciate that. Asked if he’s thought about how long it’s taken to get here, Campbell said, “I slept on it for about eight years. It was a long time. It’s been a long journey. This is my first real opportunity to be a regular NHL goaltender, and that’s what I’ve always believed I could do and worked hard for. But you’ve got to play well and you’ve got to be consistent and you’ve got to take care of everything, so I know just getting here and getting the opportunity is the first step. I’ve got to be ready to play.”