Willie Mitchell is a master-disrupter at close quarters – in front of the net and especially in the corners. He anticipates well, is good at angling his body in the right ways, and, with that long stick, is able to knock the puck off opposing players – even when it seems they are out of reach. His poke checking ability too is superb. Aside from these technicalities, he’s a workhorse and a good team guy.
Nothing wrong with Willie, right?
Well, as much as I appreciate what he can do, I’m not sure that in today’s NHL this compensates for what he can’t seem to do.
Today’s game – and today’s best teams – are all about swift, quick break-out defence. Top end defencemen don’t turn back with the puck. They’re quick to make decisions and rarely hesitate. They skate well with the puck and they’re able to make both long accurate passes and alert, nimble passes in tight spaces.
Now the Canucks have won 16 of their 22 games without Mitchell. And they seem to me to look a little better breaking out of their defensive zone than they did with Mitchell in the line-up. Coming out of the back end, everything seems a little less choppy and stop-and-go, a little less effortful.
I’m not suggesting that Mitchell is not a solid defencemen and that there is not a place for him – far from it. But the nature of the game is always vacillating and sometimes this dictates the value and proficiency of the one playing it. Today’s game confers value to all the Keith’s, Doughty’s and, hey, why not, Ehrhoff’s out there.
I hope I’m wrong about Mitchell, but not so much that I’d do any tampering with this current Canuck team.