Campbell knows about a long wait

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

The seats in Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena are about as comfortable as those in any other NHL building -- unless you have to sit on the edge of one for 6 1/2 hours.

That's how long Brian Campbell waited to hear his name called at the 1997 NHL draft.

"Unfortunately," Campbell says now, chuckling, when asked if he was in attendance for what is supposed to be a prospect's finest day.

Not that this test of his patience was a huge surprise. Campbell, who was coming off a seven-goal, 36-assist season in 66 games for Brian Kilrea's 67's, was 5-foot-11 and considerably less than the 185 lbs. he's listed at now. Central Scouting ranked him 95th among North American skaters.

WENT TO PITTSBURGH

Yet at the suggestion of his agent, Larry Kelly, and with the thought that it would be a fun trip for his Strathroy-stationed parents, Campbell went to Pittsburgh and set himself up for a lot of "excuse me's" from players shuffling past him on their way to the podium.

Finally, he was chosen in the sixth round, 156th overall, by the Sabres.

"I'd see guys go ahead of me and it was like, 'What just happened there?' " Campbell says. "To see 6-foot-4 guys that can't turn any quicker than a plane ... those things are tough."

Playing down any motivational benefits the snub had, Campbell did pick himself up quite nicely. His rebound included two sensational seasons with the 67's, including a 1998-99 campaign that saw him record 87 points, be named the OHL's most outstanding player and the Canadian Hockey League's player of the year, then hoist the Memorial Cup.

No doubt, scouts were starting to feel a little embarrassed.

Upon turning pro, Campbell bounced back and forth between the Sabres and their AHL farm team for three seasons. Ultimately, he became a full-time NHLer, then an all-star. He is now set to become the most sought-after defenceman on the unrestricted free agent list come July 1 unless the Sharks re-sign him first.

Indeed, a lot of slow-turning planes have been left in his dust.

Of the 51 defencemen that were drafted before Campbell that year, only eight have made it to the NHL. Two of the seven picked in the first round (Nikos Tselios, Carolina and Kevin Grimes, Colorado) have yet to play their first game in the league.

Tampa took five defenceman before Campbell was picked: Paul Mara (Sudbury Wolves, seventh overall), Kyle Kos (Red Deer Rebels, 33rd), Mark Thompson (Regina Pats, 108th), Karel Betik (Kelowna Rockets, 109th) and Finland's Andrei Skopintsev 153rd.

Montreal took five in a row, from Rounds 3-6, while Campbell sat in the stands: Finland's Ilkka Mikkola, 65th, Daniel Tetrault of the Brandon Wheat Kings 91st, Russian Konstantin Sidulov 118th, Gennady Razin of the Kamloops Blazers, 122nd, and Jonathan Desroches of the Granby Predateurs, 145th. Household names, but only in their own houses.

Two of Campbell's 67's teammates were picked (Nick Boynton ninth by Washington and Sean Blanchard 99th by Los Angeles), and the Senators took tough blueliner Jeffrey Sullivan from the Halifax Mooseheads 146th, but made amends by choosing another that actually went on to play for them -- Karel Rachunek -- with the 229th selection.

True, Campbell was something of a late bloomer. When Kilrea took him in the third round of the 1995 OHL priority selection, even he wasn't sure Campbell was good enough for major junior hockey. Campbell was playing Jr. B with his brother Darryl, and he figured he was best suited to follow the NCAA route.

STAYED AT DAD'S URGING

But Ed Campbell, his father, told young Brian to give it a try after playing with the Under-17 team, which kept him from attending the 67's training camp. And so Brian joined Kilrea's team for a pre-season game in Belleville. When it was over, the Campbell family drove back to Strathroy minus Brian, who was on the 67's bus and en route to an exceptional OHL career.

"It worked out for me," he says in a bit of an understatement.

"How hard you work after (the draft) is what it comes down to," said Campbell, who benefited greatly from the post-lockout changes that opened up the game and allowed the great skaters and skilled players to perform their magic with less interference. "I believe I would have done well either way."


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