On August 25, 2010, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi signed defenseman Willie Mitchell. While he was known for his exceptional defensive play, the native of Port McNeill, British Columbia, had a history of concussions which most likely factored into him being unsigned so late in the summer. But Lombardi took a risk - and it paid off.
After missing the entire lockout-shortened season of 2013, Willie Mitchell returned to the Kings lineup this past season with something to prove. Rob Scuderi, Los Angeles's other stalwart on the blueline, had returned to Pittsburgh last summer, so defensively, Mitchell was expected to carry much of the load. That turned out to be just fine as Mitchell led all Kings with 128 blocked shots during the regular season while chipping in physically with 102 hits in 76 games.
In the playoffs, Mitchell was just as formidable. In 18 games, he blocked 29 shots while delivering 35 hits. He even had more shots per game, recording 23 overall as opposed to his 73 in 78 games during the regular season.
Fans have argued that one of the main reasons the Kings did not win the Stanley Cup in 2013 was due to Willie Mitchell's absence. How accurate that is is up for debate but it certainly warrants some serious consideration as the silver-and-black won their second Cup in 2014 thanks in large part to an outstanding defensive performance, which was helped led by No. 33 himself.
Offensively, Willie Mitchell scored a goal and added 11 helpers during the regular season while accumulating a +14 rating. In the playoffs, he scored another goal and added three assists to go along with a +10 rating.
Sadly, Willie Mitchell's time is now done in Los Angeles. He has since signed on with the Florida Panthers so next season, the Kings will be forced to adapt without the 37-year-old's defensive contributions. But what Mitchell has brought to Los Angeles has helped the Kings exponentially, and fans will always be grateful for that. It will be interesting to see how the Kings do next season without the services of Mitchell but only time will tell.
Overall, though, a great season - and a wonderful tenure - from one of the best defensive players in hockey.
Overall grade for Willie Mitchell: A