At this point in free agency, the focus shifts from the gems to flawed guys who can still bring some skill to the table. So, going forward, we’ll spotlight individual players who are flying under the radar.
Today’s entry: former(?) Vancouver Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell.
Name: Willie Mitchell
Height: 6-3 Weight: 208 lbs.
Strengths: Size, physicality, positioning, shutdown defense in general
Weaknesses: Concussion issues, limited offensively
Every team needs a defenseman who will make an opposing forward’s life miserable. Consider Willie Mitchell to be the NHL’s equivalent to an aging shutdown corner in the NFL; he won’t put up big interception/point totals, he’ll just do his job every game.
Well, he’ll do that job when he’s healthy … which hasn’t been the case very often the last few years. Much like more-sinister open ice hitter Scott Stevens, Mitchell’s physically intense style hurts him almost as much as it hurts his victims. Yet taking that element out of his game is like de-clawing a tiger or muting Fran Drescher. It sounds like a wise idea on paper, but they just wouldn’t be the same. I mean, just look at this brutal – but clean – check Mitchell unleashed on Jonathan Toews.
(Man, that hit never gets old.)
Pretty much any team in need of a rugged, stick-to-you-like-glue defenseman could use Ideal Scenario Healthy Willie Mitchell. The problem is it’s unclear if that player will ever emerge again – even for pockets of time. He hasn’t been the same since taking a hit from behind via Evgeni Malkin and that wasn’t even his first battle with concussions.
I haven’t heard many rumors about teams sniffing around Mitchell, and that might be because they want to make sure that he’s fit to play hockey again. As Mr. Plank of Fear the Fin points out, Mitchell said on the record that he wants to play again, so it might be a matter of time. Maybe he’ll sit out part of the season and then let people know he’s ready to return, but at this time that’s all speculation.
Either way, if I were an NHL GM, I’d be chomping at the bit to sign Willie Mitchell when (or if) he is ready to go.