In the bigger picture, the story remains the same: Willie Mitchell’s health situation still earns wild card/“x-factor” labels.
Still, if NHL.com’s latest story on the 36-year-old defenseman is any indication, Mitchell and the Los Angeles Kings no longer seem to need counseling to cope with his complicated rehab from knee issues. More specifically, GM Dean Lombardi claims that “Mitchell’s attitude has changed to enthusiastic as his progress has improved.”
Lombardi had nothing but praise for the defensive stalwart, at least when he can get on the ice.
“When he is out there, and I don’t think I’m out of line, I think he’s one of the top-five most underrated players in the League,” Lombardi said. “I think you’ve really got to know the game to appreciate him. We all appreciated him when we had him, but, boy, there are subtleties in his game that you see night in and night out. It’s his stick and his positioning. He’s probably one of the top penalty killers in the League.”
Even without Mitchell in the fold, the Kings’ defense is stacked with players, so the addition of such a key presence could make their blueline corps downright crowded.
Lombardi can think of far more troubling scenarios than having too many NHL defensemen.
“I guess we’re deep, particularly if Willie is healthy; but to me they’re like good pitchers, I don’t think you can have enough of them,” Lombardi said. “I’ll deal with this a whole lot better than I would with a shortage. It’s a good problem to have.”
Still, it remains to be seen if Mitchell can actually become a fixture once again.