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Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Senior Writer
Jan 24, 2007, 11:50 AM EST


DALLAS -- Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell, one of the two starting defensemen for the Eastern Conference in the 2007 NHL All-Star Game, in not quite a household name yet.

But judging by the household names he is being compared to by the hockey personnel on hand here for hockey's three-day celebration of all that is good in the NHL game, Campbell should have some much-deserved cachet pretty soon.

What names, you ask? Let's try Brian Leetch and Scott Niedermayer on for size.

Lindy Ruff, Campbell's coach in Buffalo, and the man standing behind the bench for the Eastern All-Stars, is the one brave enough to compare the 27-year-old Campbell to Leetch, a Hall of Famer in waiting who starred for more than 15 years with the New York Rangers and Team USA.

"I would liken him with the way he is playing this year almost to a young Brian Leetch," Ruff says. "He's great with the puck, he's a tremendous skater and he's playing with a lot of confidence. He's good in all areas of the game right now. He's been very good defensively and he's a guy that's been able to get up the ice offensively and been able to make a lot of things happen for us. His two-way game has been as good as anybody's in the East."

The numbers certainly bare that out. He leads the Eastern Conference-leading Sabres in average time on ice, playing more than 22 minutes a game. In 49 outings, Campbell has six goals and 31 points. He is also a plus-18, a number topped by only five defensemen in the entire League.

Among the defensemen with better plus/minus numbers are Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom and Anaheim's Chris Pronger. Both of those players have won the Norris Trophy as the League's best defenseman. According to Ruff, it should not be long before Campbell's name could start surfacing in discussions of candidates for that hallowed piece of hardware.

Yet, Ruff is Campbell's coach, and maybe his praise should be discounted slightly because of an obvious case of home-town favoritism, right? Wrong. Just ask Carolina forward Justin Williams, who went tooth and nail against Campbell during last year's entertaining and grueling seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Final.

"He just seems like such a steady defenseman," Williams says. "Every time he has the puck, it seems he is going to make a play with it. In that respect, he kind of reminds you of a Niedermayer. He's always going to make a play and he's always looking to make a play. Brian's young and he can only get better, too.

"I think the playoffs last year was when everybody started to notice Brian and give him a lot of credit for what he was doing and it's well-deserved."

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