Player Spotlight: Willie Mitchell

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Willie Mitchell, captain of the Florida Panthers, may not always be a playmaker or game-changer. However, his presence is always seen on and off the ice. His leadership qualities make him the perfect captain for such a young, up and coming team. Keep reading for more information on Florida Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell.

Background

In the offseason before this past 2014-2015 season, the Florida Panthers acquired Willie Mitchell from the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. The Panthers justified the decision of picking up a player who had only scored 30 goals in 795 games by keeping his experience level in mind. Mitchell, 38, won two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings (2012 and 2014), so he clearly knows what it takes for a team to be successful. In what was somewhat of a shock to fans, Willie Mitchell was named captain of the Florida Panthers, a job that many thought would be occupied by Brian Campbell or even Erik Gudbranson. Yet, as I hope you will be able to see by the end of this post, he is actually the perfect person for the position.

Leadership

Willie Mitchell has showed all signs of a great leader, on and off the ice. He supports his teammates and is willing to fight for them, physically and verbally. He was always defensively paired with a much younger player (Gudbranson, Kulikov, Ekblad) and, although not as drastically as with Brian Campbell, he did allow these players to perform better. Off the ice, he is just as much of a leader. When Aaron Ekblad was drafted by the Panthers, Willie Mitchell was the first to offer him a place to stay. Ekblad has been living with Mitchell and his wife ever since then, and fans often hear stories about the shenanigans and cookie making that have occurred in the Mitchell house.

He is also very involved in charity and often raises awareness for organizations such as the Marine Education and Research (MER) Society and the Pacific Salmon Foundation — if you can’t tell, Willie Mitchell loves the ocean. More than anything, Willie Mitchell has faith in the Florida Panthers and truly believes that they have the power to win the cup and to win it soon. In fact, when Glenn Healy of Hockey Night in Canada failed to describe the Florida Panthers in a positive way, Willie Mitchell fought back via twitter (warning: there is a bit of foul language involved).

Playing Style

Willie Mitchell plays with a quiet confidence. He is not a flashy 40-goal scorer or a big fighter or anything along those lines. He had 99 hits this season, which was 1.5 hits per game on average. He only had 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points in 66 games. Nothing about his statistics is mind-blowing. However, it is perhaps even more important to look at stats like SAT for and against than to look at just his point totals. This way, we can see how the team performs while he is on the ice (for more info on the enhanced stats I will be using, click here). Out of all Panthers players, Willie Mitchell is ranked 4th in SAT for, behind Brian Campbell, Aaron Ekblad, and Dmitry Kulikov. He is also ranked 4th in SAT against, behind Brian Campbell, Aaron Ekblad, and Erik Gudbranson. This means that the team performs better when he is on the ice. Also, he scored all 3 of his goals in games that the Panthers won, meaning that he has an extremely positive impact on the team’s attitude as well as skill-level. When he scores, the team becomes reinvigorated and gains the spirit to win that game.

Conclusion

I’m going to come out and say that Willie Mitchell is not an incredible hockey player on the surface. When looking strictly at his statistics on paper, many may wonder why the Panthers signed him and especially why he was named captain of a team he had not even played for before. Willie Mitchell displays his captainship in another way. He does a lot of charity, he stands up for his teammates, and has a 19 year old all-star living in his house. Oh, and he also makes his teammates perform better with not only his gameplay but also his spirit. I don’t think there is any reason to doubt that Willie Mitchell is a very valuable player for the Panthers and their playoff campaign.

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