Weâ€™ve partnered up with Pension Plan Puppets to bring to you a Player Review series, where we will be evaluating and grading the 2009-10 season for every Leaf who featured in a significant number of games for the Blue and White last season, with an eye towards 2010-11.Today we feature John Mitchell, profiled by Garrett Bauman.
It’s difficult to know what to make of John Mitchell. During his Leafs’ tenure he has flashed obvious talent, but also a tendency to disappear for lengthy stretches.Â After a promising rookie campaign, Mitchell found himself struggling to earn ice time, playing in defensive role in front of shaky goaltending, and was later beset by a knee injury which caused him to miss 20 games.
A restricted free agent, it goes without saying that Mitchell will have a lot to prove should the team decide to bring him back.
Mitchell’s main asset, and the key to his success, is his strong work ethic.Â Heart and effort have never been a question with him, nor has versatility, for that matter as he has shown the ability to play as effectively on the wing as he does at centre. He also demonstrated some underrated stick skills with a couple of nifty shootout goals, and his playmaking improved considerably (was on pace for 23 assists, up from 17 the year before).
A good faceoff man (51.2% for the season, 63.4% on the PP), Mitchell possesses decent instincts in both the offensive and defensive zones.Â Some will point to his -7 rating (among the worst on the team) to counter that last claim, but that number can be largely attributed to his playing a more defensive role early on with the league’s 2nd-worst goaltending behind him; by season’s end his CORSI and GVT both ranked 5th among remaining Leafs’ forwards.Â A chirpy, though not overly physical player, Mitchell’s most underrated attribute may be his ability to throw opponents off their game with a steady stream of chatter throughout.
Playing the second half of the season wearing a full knee brace, Mitchell struggled to regain his form upon his return from injury. His shooting percentage took a turn for the worse last season, plummeting from 12.2 to 6.7, with his goals dropping by a similar margin.Â Considered a decent skater for his size, Mitchell does, however, lack a top gear and must learn to rely more on his instincts to generate offense rather than pressing and forcing low-percentage plays. A commitment to better picking his spots in order to avoid getting caught deep in the zone on broken plays would improve his overall game immensely.
For all his individual skills, Mitchell has yet to figure out how to put them all together into a singular package.Â On a Brian Burke team, where the top-six and bottom-six roles are clearly defined, where does a player like Mitchell fit in?Â His advantage – the ability to plug into any line for short bursts – is also his disadvantage, as there is a very real possibility he could find himself typecast as a utility player/13th forward viewed as lacking the ability to produce in a given role over the long haul.
Now it’s your turn. In the comments, rate Mitchell on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential, and your expectations for the season.
Do you expect Mitchell to return, and if so, what role suits him best? Also, to what degree did the knee injury affect his second half performance? Do you expect to see a different John Mitchell next season when he is back to 100%, or is what we’ve seen so far as good as it’s going to get?