A few gray hairs mingling with the orange is one clear sign that Brian Campbell is getting older. A look at his career numbers provides further evidence. He’s approaching 1,000 games in the NHL, a milestone that seemed out of the realm of possibility back when he was a benched youngster in Buffalo.
Once Campbell gets on the ice, though, it’s as if he hasn’t aged a day. The defenseman can still skate all night, make defensive plays and provide offense. He’s helped the Florida Panthers grow into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
“I feel good,” Campbell said Tuesday before facing the Sabres. “I’ve felt better this year than I have in the last couple years. Nothing’s really changing. I feel like I can get the job done and keep going. I’m having a lot of fun with it.”
A few tweaks to his training regime and a winning team have reinvigorated Campbell, who turns 37 in May. He skates a team-high 21:36 per game for the Panthers, is second with a plus-16 rating and third in Corsi. He has four goals and 20 points, which ranks 45th among all NHL defensemen.
“Brian’s a great skater and he moves the puck real good for our team,” coach Gerard Gallant said in First Niagara Center. “He’s had a real good year for us.”
Overshadowed nowadays by Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau, Campbell still brings a championship pedigree to the Panthers (31-16-6). He won a Stanley Cup in Chicago and likes what he sees in Florida – usually.
“We’re still trying to find some consistency with our team,” he said. “When we’re on our game, we can play with anybody. There’s some lapses here and there that we need to be more consistent with.
“We’ve got a lot of good, young players mixed in with some veteran guys, so it’s a good locker room to get the job done.”
Campbell continues to get it done every night for the Panthers. He’s played in 347 consecutive games since arriving in 2011. He'll skate in his 974th game Tuesday, putting him on track to reach 1,000 before the regular season ends.
“I don’t think anybody here in Buffalo or anywhere would have thought that,” said Campbell, who was still competing for playing time at age 24. “Obviously, that’s special. Hopefully, I can get there. It’s pretty rewarding for myself. I’m pretty hard on myself and I’m pretty intense and focused and don’t have a lot of time to breathe throughout a season. That I feel is pretty special for myself.
“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a good ride.”
It’s not over yet, though his contract nearly is. The eight-year, $57.1 million deal he signed with Chicago in 2008 expires after the season. Though he enjoys spending time with his 2-year-old and 8-month-old children, he’s not ready to be a stay-at-home dad.
“I feel like I’ve got more left in me,” Campbell said. “Do I want to continue playing after this year? Yeah, I definitely do and I feel like I can. That’s how I’ll take it for now.”