San Jose Sharks: Will Torrey Mitchell Finally Become a Playoff Force in 2011?

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San Jose Sharks: Will Torrey Mitchell Finally Become a Playoff Force in 2011?
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Can Torrey Mitchell finally be a difference-maker in the playoffs?

For several seasons, San Jose Sharks center Torrey Mitchell has been a bit enigmatic. He is a young player with undeniable potential, but injuries and other factors have greatly hampered his development.

Mitchell is a talented skater and one of the fastest players on the team. Coaches have marveled at his potential, but he has yet to realize much of it.

After showing some promise as a rookie in 2007-08 (10 goals with 20 points and a memorable score in the first round of the playoffs to even the series with the Calgary Flames and help the Sharks eventually win in seven games), Mitchell entered camp in 2008-09 hoping to play a larger role as a rising star in the NHL.

Those hopes were soon shelved when he suffered a severe broken leg in camp followed by a second injury during the course of his minor league rehab—holding him out of action until midway through the Sharks' first round series with the Anaheim Ducks.

Mitchell showed the effects of having been out nearly an entire year in 2009-10, struggling to gain regular ice time and producing just two goals with 11 points. Many questioned whether he could ever regain the promise his career had once shown.

The 2010-11 season has proven somewhat of a renaissance for Mitchell, and he seems to be heating up at the right time. Mitchell actually opened the scoring on the season for the Sharks, tallying the very first goal of the campaign against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. Was it a harbinger of things to come?

Overall, Mitchell's 2010-11 output has been fairly pedestrian (though he has once again suffered from some injury setbacks)—with seven goals and 17 points in 57 games. However, his recent production gives fans reason to hope as the Sharks march unwaveringly toward the postseason—now just three weeks away.

In his last eight games, Mitchell has tallied three goals and seven points, including an incredible individual effort to tie the game late in the third period against the NHL-point-leading Vancouver Canucks earlier this month. Is this a sign that Mitchell is finally trending upward as the team rushes toward mid-April, and that for once Mitchell may finally prove the lower-line difference maker many had long envisioned him to be?

We will soon find out. If Calder Trophy favorite Logan Couture's injury from Saturday's win over the St. Louis Blues proves to be anything serious, players like Mitchell may suddenly find themselves with even more pressure to produce.

Particularly in the playoffs, teams' top lines tend to neutralize one another, leaving the games to be won and lost on the third and fourth line shifts. This means that while players like Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Logan Couture will certainly be keys, players like Torrey Mitchell, Jamal Mayers and Ben Eager will likely see the lion's share of the quality scoring chances. Their ability to capitalize might well spell the ultimate fate of the Sharks this postseason.

Mitchell's recent exploits suggest he may finally be ready to face such a challenge. Can he ultimately prove to be the proverbial final piece to the puzzle that pushes the Sharks over the top? Time will tell.

Keep the faith!

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