John Mitchell's Diminishing Role on the Maple Leafs

Neil GrewalCorrespondent IIIJune 2, 2010

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 8:  John Mitchell #39 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates in the warm-up prior to a game against the San Jose Sharks on February 8, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Sharks defeated the Leafs 3-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

When the Maple Leafs drafted John Mitchell in the fifth round, 158th overall in 2003, there was little expectation for him to be an impact player in the NHL.

Mitchell's road to the NHL wasn't as smooth as others. After the Leafs drafted him, he played the following two seasons with the Plymouth Whalers, leading them in scoring both seasons. Once his junior career was finished, Mitchell joined the Marlies to fix or improve upon the weak areas of his game.

He played three seasons with the Marlies, improving his play and his point totals each season. In his last season with the Marlies, Mitchell scored 20 goals and 51 points in 79 games, and he was a key player for them in their 19 playoff games, amassing 12 points. After his stellar play for the Marlies he was finally given a chance to show his stuff with the big club.

When Mitchell first joined the Leafs in the 2008-09 season, he proved himself to be one of the best players in the Leafs lineup.

He was mostly given playing time on the third and fourth lines, but on a less than spectacular Leafs team, he was constantly given opportunities to prove himself. He played on the same line as Mats Sundin, as well as pretty much everywhere else on the lineup.

With the conclusion of Mitchell's rookie season, he finished with a very respectable 12 goals and 29 points, but he also had a team-worst minus-16. For a player whose strength is supposed to be his defensive play, that's an area that he needs to work on a lot more in order to be effective.

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Hockeysfuture.com says the following about his skill set:

"His biggest asset is his good size down the middle. He is also adept on faceoffs and is reliable in his own end. He has all the makings of a NHL third-line center, but whether or not he will ever live up to that is another question. He skates well, has good size, can take faceoffs, plays well in his own end, but he never seems to put all of those skills together on a consistent basis."

Looking at this analysis, we can see how spot on it really is. Mitchell was one of the better faceoff men for the Leafs finishing the season with a 51.2 win percentage, but he was very inconsistent this season.

In my opinion, there was too much that was expected of Mitchell after having a stellar rookie season.

Scouts have said that Mitchell could be a very effective third-line center, but he needs to be more consistent with his play. People were getting on Mitchell's case this year because of his struggles offensively, yet that is not where his strength lies. He simply had more of an offensive role during his rookie season, which saw him put up some good numbers.

Mitchell has the makings of a good NHL third-line player, but as it stands now, he will probably not realize that potential with the Leafs. He just does not fit the type of play that Burke now expects from his third-line players. Mitchell may be good and responsible in his third-line role, but he is not truculent enough for the type of team now in Toronto.

Mitchell will probably be a solid player in the coming years. As it stands now, it most likely won't be in Toronto. Brian Burke is trying to build a competent team within the next year or two. There is no guarantee that Mitchell will prove himself to be a solid player by then.

Right now Mitchell is an RFA and will most likely not receive much interest from other teams. I believe he will make no more than $1 million at the most. Burke has already guaranteed roster changes this offseason, so Mitchell will most likely be one of the first prospects or young roster players to leave the Leafs this offseason.

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