CHICAGO — Brian Campbell‘s 3-year-old daughter had soccer on Saturday morning, so his family skipped the Blackhawks’ scrimmage at the United Center. The grinning defenceman said he wasn’t sure if her team was playing games yet, but she had to be there.
No big deal. Campbell will get plenty of opportunities for family time this year.
The 37-year-old Campbell is back in Chicago after spending the last five seasons in Florida, leaving some money on the table for a one-year deal and a second stint with the Blackhawks. His wife, Lauren, is from the region, and the couple and their two young daughters make their off-season home in the area.
“It’s just great to wake up every morning and I know the area and my wife’s extremely happy and the kids with school and everything just being ready to go,” he said.
The move was a no-brainer for Chicago, which lost Johnny Oduya during free agency last July and missed his veteran presence at times last season. With Campbell in the fold, the Blackhawks appear to be in great shape with their blue liners, with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook leading a deep group of defencemen.
Campbell, who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup in 2010, had six goals and 25 assists in 82 games with the Panthers last season. He led NHL defencemen with a plus-31 plus-minus rating.
“Just such a real smart player,” said Blackhawks assistant Kevin Dineen, who also coached Campbell for three seasons in Florida. “I think his patience is a real key for us. He makes really quality plays. He’s been around for a while and he loves the game. He can skate all night.”
The Blackhawks love mobile defencemen who can help on the offensive side, and Campbell seems like a perfect fit for what they try to do. He assisted on Richard Panik’s first goal of Saturday’s scrimmage, the centerpiece of the team’s annual training camp festival, and carried the puck all the way up the ice during another impressive sequence.
Chicago is missing several players at the moment due to the World Cup of Hockey, but Campbell has made a smooth return to the Blackhawks so far.
“There’s a few things system-wise that’s going to be different, I’m sure. It’s kind of tough to get into that right now,” said Campbell, who played in every regular-season game while he was with the Panthers. “But not much has changed. There’s a lot of the same staff, which is great, and the organization just keeps getting better every day.”
Campbell, a native of Strathroy, Ontario, played with a couple current Blackhawks during his first stint with the team, and he already has made an impression on his new teammates.
“Skating with him and seeing him out in these scrimmages, his poise with the puck and his play recognition and how he moves the puck up the ice and gets it away from us,” goaltender Scott Darling said, “we’re really happy to have him.”
Campbell, a four-time All-Star, broke into the NHL with Buffalo in 1999. He won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2012 after collecting four goals and 49 assists in 82 games with Florida, becoming the first defenceman since Red Kelly in 1954 to win the award.
Coming off perhaps his best season — Campbell’s plus-minus rating was a career best — he doesn’t appear to be worried about duplicating his form from a year ago.
“For me this year, it’s just work hard and produce and help out,” he said. “I expect a lot out of myself. I just want to be a good puck mover for this team, play well defensively. Those are the things I kind of did last year. Points will come, I’m not worried about that aspect of the game. Just trying to win hockey games and help these young kids.”