John Mitchell's Injury Could Be What Doctor Ordered for Leafs, Christian Hanson

Jon NeelyAnalyst INovember 24, 2009

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 07: Christian Hanson #20 of the Toronto Maple Leafs hits the ice against the New Jersey Devils on April 7, 2009 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils 4-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It's hardly fair to a player who just suffered an injury to say that it happened at the perfect time, but in the case of John Mitchell and the Toronto Maple Leafs, it just may have.

Mitchell suffered an MCL injury Monday night against the New York Islanders and has been put on the shelf for six weeks; bad news for him, but it could be great news for the team.

Mitchell has been struggling mightily this season, and with the Leafs in the midst of three of the strangest games in recent memory, it's clear something had to change before the fans' mental health was at risk.

Adding one of the young guys from the Marlies has been talked about by fans and media alike for weeks, and it finally has happened. 

After losing four straight games the team found itself in Carolina against the last-place Hurricanes, desperate for a win. The Leafs' 3-0 lead evaporated and the two teams were deadlocked 4-4 with less than a minute to go. Ian White scored with less than a minute left, but Eric Cole tied it up with just 2.9 seconds remaining.

And as they normally do, the Leafs lost in the shootout.

Next up was a date with the first-place Washington Capitals on Saturday night; the fans expected a blow-out after the terrible play of late. But, alas, after mostly shutting down Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Caps, the Leafs won in a shootout.

Yes, a shootout. Weird.

But nothing could prepare the team, or fans, for what happened against the Islanders. After utterly dominating the game, coming back from a 3-0 deficit, having Vesa Toskala pull himself with an injury three shots too late, and firing a grand total of 61 shots on Dwayne Roloson, the Leafs lost a heartbreaker in overtime.

That game was one of the great mysteries of this season for a team that could write a book on strange occurrences through 22 games.

Needless to say, the effort has been there in each of the past three games; it's the finish that hasn't. They have collected four of the possible six points in that stretch but this team is not in a position where it can afford consecutive one-point games.

And come on, 61 shots, really? In a game where you get that many pucks on net, the only goalie skating to the bench should be the other team's after being shelled for six or seven goals.

So just when the team needed to dump a struggling forward and inject some life into the lineup, down goes Mitchell with that bum-knee.

Perfect timing.

Hey, it's a cut-throat business and sometimes an injury can make way for an up-and-coming star waiting for a chance with the big club.

Consider your window of opportunity wide open, Christian Hanson.

The budding star has been called up from the Toronto Marlies to replace Mitchell (who has only two goals this season) and it could turn out to be a huge positive for the Leafs. Hanson leads the Marlies in goals and points (8G, 18P) through 18 games and is second in the AHL in rookie scoring.

His play has been extremely impressive this season and if that carries over to his play in the NHL the Leafs could finally see that needed finish, from yet another American. Phil Kessel can't do everything on his own.

Yes, it is rather harsh to say that the Leafs needed one of their struggling forwards to get hurt—since Coach Ron Wilson didn't seem to want to sit any of them—but now that Mitchell is out for significant time, Hanson has all the opportunity in the world to show he belongs in the NHL.

And the insertion of a kid playing the best hockey of his life could be perfect for a Leafs team in serious need of more scoring. Leaf fans hope Hanson is one answer to a team with many questions.

If all goes well, it could turn out that an injury was just what the doctor ordered for the Leafs.

Weird; but in Toronto, what else is new?