Big man on campus

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

Brian Campbell could have played anywhere he wanted to this season.

He could have returned home to Ontario, stayed in sunny California, or signed with the highest bidder.

But the talented defenceman saw the direction the Chicago Blackhawks were heading and decided to get on board.

"I knew the situation I was going into and where we were going with it, and that's a big reason why I came to Chicago," Campbell said prior to last night's game against the Edmonton Oilers.

"I wanted to play in a hockey city and it's definitely that. The organization has done a great job and they've done a great job of putting together a pretty good team."

This off-season Campbell, 29, signed an eight-year contract with the Blackhawks, which will pay him over $7.1-million per season. He reportedly turned down more lucrative offers from other clubs and also left a good situation in San Jose with the Sharks.

"I loved San Jose, I can't say enough good things about it," Campbell said. "The organization was really first class.

"I was good friends with a lot of those guys, I grew up with Joe Thornton and I talked to him about it before I became a free agent.

"I know they wanted me back there and I would have really enjoyed it there, but I felt that I wanted to be a little bit closer to my family, so I made this decision to come to Chicago and it's worked out really well for me."

Originally Buffalo's sixth-round pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Campbell spent eight seasons with the Sabres before being dealt to the Sharks just prior to the trade deadline last year.

The Strathroy, Ont., native was expected to help the Sharks get over the hump and challenge for the Stanley Cup. However, they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the Dallas Stars.

Having finished the season with eight goals and 54 assists, the six-foot, 188-pound defenceman became a highly-sought commodity, with a number of teams after his services. The Blackhawks won the sweepstakes.

"We're certainly getting a lot of experience from him; we have a young team on the back end especially," said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. "He gives us a nice dimension with that offensive flair from the back end. Our production offensively from our defence has been very effective and he leads the way in that area. He's been around, he's been in some different situations with some winning programs and I think that can help us."

Campbell leads all Blackhawks defencemen with four goals and 16 assists this season. He's also averaging a team-high 25:13 of ice time per game.

"The fact that he chose Chicago was good for us," Quenneville said. "He's come into a young team that's on the upswing. For that reason, I think he's a nice fit. We're trying to get to the playoffs and he can help us get there."

After getting off to a slow start, which cost then head coach Denis Savard his job, the Hawks have turned things around and are now chasing the Detroit Red Wings for the lead in the Central Division.

The Blackhawks have made the playoffs only once in the last 10 seasons and have been left on the outside looking in for the last five years. This season, the goal heading into the campaign was to snap the playoff drought and they appear to be heading in that direction.

"I think as the season has gone on, we've gained a lot of confidence," Campbell said. "The expectations in this locker-room were to make the playoffs, but I expect more from this team than just that, and the guys are buying into that and feel like those expectations should be higher."

A large portion of the Blackhawks success this year has been the play of their young stars, including Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Kris Versteeg.

Campbell has been a good complement to all of them.

"The guys are a year old, they have more experience and we're improving," he said. "You can see the steps that we're taking so far this season

"I didn't know a whole lot about them before I got here. I didn't know Patrick Sharp had that kind of speed. From a standstill he can get going really quickly, while Patrick Kane, I find him very elusive out there.

"They talk about guys like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but Kane is one of those guys that if you're not careful with will walk right around you.

"So far, it's been great here. It starts with the organization and they've been first class. They take care of us and the building is sold out for the whole year and there's been a lot of excitement."


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