Panthers captain Mitchell (concussion) ‘has to decide whether he can play’

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Heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, there’s no denying Florida would love to have its captain in the mix.

But there’s no denying his return is loaded with issues.

Willie Mitchell, who’s again dealing with concussion problems that have occurred throughout his lengthy career, hasn’t played since mid-January — and on Thursday, GM Dale Tallon said Mitchell’s return is up in the air.

“Willie has to decide whether he can play or not,” Talon said, per the Miami Herald. “We want to make sure he doesn’t get hurt, we want to make sure there is no permanent damage.”

Mitchell, who turns 39 in April, has been a fairly key cog for Florida since signing on two years ago. He played 66 games last season while averaging nearly 22 minutes a night, and appeared in 46 this year — with his ice time dipping to under 20 minutes per — before being sidelined.

Among other things, he was instrumental in helping prized d-man Aaron Ekblad adjust to NHL life. Ekblad lived with Mitchell during his rookie campaign, which culminated with Ekblad capturing last year’s Calder Trophy.

With Mitchell out of the lineup, Florida has a lack of experience on the back end — he’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion with nearly 90 postseason games to his credit.

In Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Rangers, the six defensemen that dressed — Ekblad, Steve Kampfer, Alex Petrovic, Dmitry Kulikov, Jakub Kindl and Brian Campbell — have a grand total of 123 playoff games.

Campbell accounts for most of that, with 97. Another injured defenseman, Erik Gudbranson, has seven.

So it’s obvious the Panthers would love to have Mitchell back. But they’re not willing to risk further damage in order to do so.

“This is up to Willie. We want to do what is best for him. That’s the bottom line,” Tallon said. “The doctors have said they’re concerned with his long-term health.”