When Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender, Jack Campbell, started playing his way into a starting role last season, there were a lot of nay sayers. Many hockey fans said he was too old. Some said he was a late bloomer.
It reminded me of the strange career of another fairly recent “too old, late blooming” Michigan born goaltender, Tim Thomas. Sure there are a lot of differences between the Toronto Maple Leafs starter and the former Bruins great, but there are a lot of similarities too.
Tim Thomas was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the ninth round (217th overall) of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Jack Campbell was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the first round (11th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Campbell was a highly touted prospect where Thomas was not.
Both players had a difficult time getting the chance to play in the NHL. Thomas was never signed by the Nordiques. He finished college, played in the IHL, ECHL, Finland and Sweden, had a short stint with the Oilers AHL affiliate at the time, then the Providence Bruins for a few seasons before finally sticking with the Boston Bruins.
If Thomas can do it, the Toronto Maple Leafs Jack Campbell can too!
Jack Campbell may have even had an easier journey than Tim Thomas. Campbell played a couple seasons in the OHL after he was drafted but was signed by the team that drafted him and went to the AHL’s Texas Stars. He then bounced between the AHL and ECHL for a few seasons getting into one NHL game before he was traded to LA.
Campbell played another couple seasons in the AHL before eventually becoming a backup in LA. He was then traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs to back-up Freddie Andersen but took over the starting position when Andersen was hurt last season.
Tim Thomas made his NHL debut at 28 year old, became an NHL back-up at 31 and an NHL starter at 32. Campbell played his first NHL game at age 22, his second NHL game at 25, became an NHL back-up at 27 and an NHL starter at 29.
Thomas was older than Campbell (also shorter at 5’11) when he became a starter, but I remember Boston Bruins fans cheering him on as an underdog. Most Toronto Maple Leafs fans seem to have Campbell’s back now, but there were some real doubters last season.
Thomas went on to play six great seasons as the Boston Bruins starting goaltender winning two Vezina trophies, a Jennings trophy, a Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup which ended Boston’s 38 year Cup drought.
Nearing the halfway mark of the season, Jack Campbell leads the NHL in save percentage, is very close to the league lead in goals against average and is very much a part of the Vezina conversation. Hopefully this late blooming Michigan born goaltender can help end the Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup drought as well.