Time for that analysis I promised.
First, the basics – Willie Mitchell was born on April 23, 1977. He now weighs in at 6’3″, 205lbs.
Let us zoom the microscope into Mitchell’s playing history.
Mitchell’s professional hockey career began with none other than Lou Lamoriello, who drafted Willie in the now non-existent 8th round (199th overall) in 1996. From there, he spent two years in the NCAA out of Clarkson University (I don’t know where that is, and it doesn’t sound important enough to look up), where he played a total of 68 games. He notched 19 goals and 36 assists, for a total of 55 points. During that time he played alongside a couple of current NHLers in Erik Cole and Kent Huskins (meaningless, but interesting… sort of).
He turned pro at the end of his second college hockey season, joining the Albany River Rats for 6 games. In 1998-1999, he played his first full professional season, consisting of 63 games in the AHL and 2 games with the big boys in Jersey. Mind you, this was before the Devils moved to Newark, back when class acts like Mitchell didn’t mind playing for the East Coast Red Army. He scored 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists) that year in the minors. After one more season split between Lamoriello’s little and big sister clubs, Mitchell found himself on the Minnesota Wild to finish out the 2000-2001 season (the Wild’s first season in the NHL). Mitchell would never sniff the minors again. Instead, he would become a building block of the proud Wild franchise. Silly Devils.
Get this, who did Minnesota send to Jersey for Mitchell? Sean O’Donnell. That’s now twice in his career that Mitchell has come on to a new team to replace good old OD. Weird.
Mitchell went on to play 4 solid seasons for the Wild, earning his reputation for being a reliable, but mean player. Sandpaper comes to mind, both to describe his style of play, and the sexy scruff he can get going.
Before we get into his accomplishments in Minnesota, lets get started on something that is on everyone’s paranoid minds: injury history.
For Mitchell it began in October of 2001, his first full season with the Wild. He hurt his shoulder and missed 5 games. A month later he missed 3 games due to a groin injury. Another month goes by and he misses 5 games, hobbled by an injury to his left wrist. He would not miss anymore games that season. All in all, Willie played 68 games that season, scored 3 goals and 10 assists, all the while being a -16. That would be the single and only time that Mitchell would finish a season, partial or otherwise, in the negative. No surprise considering that Wild team also finish dead last in the league.
Let me reiterate that last point. In 586 games spanning 9 seasons, Mitchell ended the year as an overall minus, ONCE. That single aberration being in his first full NHL season on a terrible expansion team.
Between 2002 and 2005, Mitchell played two more full seasons for the Wild, playing 69 and 70 games respectively, and scoring 2 and 1 goals, 12 and 13 assists, also respectively. I have no respect for such awful usage of the term ‘respectively’. The 25 games he missed those two years, were the result of a rib injury in November of 2002 that kept him out for 5 games, a knee injury in November 2003 that cost him 11 games, and a common cold that made him sulk in the sauna for a single game. The other 8 games were from Mitchell’s first concussion, suffered in early December of 2002.
The season after the lockout, his 4th and final one in Minnesota, Mitchell only missed two games, playing 64 for the Wild before playing another 16 in Dallas after being traded along with a 2nd round pick for Shawn Belle (raise your hand if you remember that also-ran) and Martin Skoula.
The two games Mitchell did miss that year, were in April of ’06, the almighty “upper-body injury” being the culprit.
The Stars let Willie get away that summer, losing the unrestricted free agent for nothing to the Vancouver Canucks.
After signing a 4 year, $14 million contract in Vancouver (the same yearly salary/cap hit as Mitchell’s contract with the Kings), Mitchell solidified his reputation in the NHL. Sandpaper had become rock. 20+ minutes a night were a breeze. 25 was often only not out of question, but a necessity. Mitchell finished his Canuck career with 268 games in that ugly uniform, 58 points, 233 PIMs, and an overall +/- of +49. In somewhat goofy fashion, Mitchell scored just 10 goals with the Canucks. 1 in his first year. 2 in his second. 3 in his third and 4 in his fourth and final, short-lived season in British Columbia, his native province.
OK so 268 games does not 4 season’s make (328 games make up 4 seasons). What happened to those lost 60 games?
Well we know about the most recent and damaging concussion. The one that kept Mitchell on the UFA market until late August and fattened the tab of people who think Evgeni Malkin is a really, really big piece of shit. That concussion cost him 34 regular season games and all 12 of Vancouver’s playoff appearances last year.
The other 26 games saw Mitchell out for 10 due to a sore back, 11 to three separate but mostly equal groin injuries (2, 4 and 5, in January, February and March of 2007, respectively [that was an appropriate usage of ‘respectively’, but I’m still not really OK with it]), and 9 games to his second career concussion, knocked into (our out of?) his skull in November of 2006.
Now you may look at that and say that Mitchell is an idiot, or doesn’t heal properly, missing games in three separate chunks to the same aggravated and re-aggravated and re-re-aggravated groin injury. One must remember what tough as nails heart and soul players do for a living. They play hurt.
Mitchell has also appeared in 45 playoffs game with the Wild, Stars and Canucks. He is an overall +1, with 1 goal, 6 assists and 50 PIMs. We all love our young, hip team, but experiences counts boys and girls.
And here now, 631 NHL games, 20 goals, 106 assists, 671 penalty minutes, 20 fights, on the ice 83 more times for a goal for his team than one against and 51 games lost to getting his noggin’ knocked a little too violently later, Mitchell comes to Los Angeles. It took all that, and a further commitment of two years and $7 million to put the crown on Mitchell’s chest. The player Vancouver fans desperately wanted to keep, and rued not having in the playoffs, is ours.
The steely, viperous stick of Scuderi:
Kevin Westgarth’s willingness to punch anyone in the face:
And of course, Dustin Brown’s resemblance to a train:
That is what Willie Mitchell can do for you.
Willie Mitchell will bring all of these things to the Los Angeles Kings. Leadership, calm, fire, defense defense defense, with a capital D-E-F-E-N-S-E. How dare you even think defence.
He will open up space for Doughty and Johnson. He will siphon real estate during 5-on-3s and in the last minutes of the game with Scuderi and Greene. He will replace O’Donnell’s voice in the locker room, and improve upon his achievements on the ice.
Mitchell gives Terry Murray options during the game, and Dean Lombardi options during the season. No longer is a leap of faith in Hickey, Muzzin, Fransson, Martinez or whoever your cup of prospect soup happens to be, a necessity. With Mitchell on the ice, Westgarth’s injury is easier to take. The loss of O’Donnell’s willingness to protect our young players will not be felt or missed. When Dustin Brown forgets that he is better at hitting than stick-handling, Mitchell will be there to run people over in his stead. When Williams loses the puck on the rush, Mitchell will stand between his goaltender behind him and the world coming at him. When the game, and literally the puck, is on the line, you will see Mitchell on the ice.
I called my father today to tell him excitedly that the Kings’ had signed Willie Mitchell. See, he either doesn’t care to or doesn’t know how to follow the team he has watched for 35 years on internet. He wouldn’t read about it until tomorrow. I thought he’d like to know.
He responded, “Who?”
And such is Mitchell, under the radar until he’s on your screen. Doing the things you don’t get money worthy of league rejection to do, but rather the things that simply must be done. The work that takes a warrior.
In case you asked yourself the same question as my father today, now you know the answer. The better answer however, with training camp just over 3 weeks away, is that you will find out soon enough.
And you won’t be disappointed.
Categories: L.A. Kings News