When Garrett Mitchell found out a year ago that Coach Adam Oates would be helping out in Hershey during the NHL lockout, the forward was thrilled.
Prospects in the AHL rarely have the opportunity to work with the NHL team’s staff on a daily basis for any length of time, typically only seeing them at training camp once a year. Mitchell, 22, was ready to take in as much information as he could, and he believes the experience will help him this preseason.
“Most of the time you don’t get to interact with the [NHL] coaches as much as we did,” Mitchell said. “For me and the younger guys in our organization, it really helped us out because we created a stronger bond right away. He was around the dressing room, around practices and watching us play every night.”
Mitchell will play in tonight’s preseason game at Philadelphia, skating as the right wing on a line with Martin Erat and Mathieu Perreault. Oates intentionally put him with players who had plenty of NHL experience to see how Mitchell might handle the different environment.
“Mitch just has to keep growing as a player,” Oates said recently. “He’s got a really good chance to make the NHL — he skates well, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical. Just keep your learning curve going.”
A sixth-round pick in 2009, Mitchell is in the final year of his entry-level deal. He knows the chances of starting the year in Washington may be slim, given the number of returning NHL forwards. But that doesn’t stop him from working to have the opportunity to contribute at the NHL level at some point this year, even if it is as a midseason call up.
He’s also eager to keep learning from Oates, whose detail-oriented approach left a lasting impression. Whether it was demonstrating to forwards how to best battle in front of the net – being able to fend off an opponent, while still positioned to catch and shoot the puck – or altering the curvature of his stick. Mitchell is now among the ever-growing group of players who have tweaked their stick in some fashion after a suggestion from Oates.
He used to play with a completely straight blade, but adopted Oates’s curve last year. (Oates’s curve is actually Steven Stamkos’s curve.)
“It’s helped me out, even just picking pucks up off the wall,” Mitchell said. “He says little things and you’re like, ‘No it can’t help,’ but when you start doing it day in and day out it really makes a difference. I’ve noticed my shot has definitely improved with that as well.”
Here’s the projected lineup for tonight’s game at Wells Fargo Center, though there’s still a little uncertainty about which defensemen will sit out tonight’s tilt. Goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and David Leggio will split the contest. Update: Kolomatis and Schilling will sit out tonight.
Jason Chimera-Eric Fehr-Joel Ward
Martin Erat-Mathieu Perreault-Garrett Mitchell
Andre Burakovsky-Jeff Taffe-Brandon Segal
Ryan Stoa-Michael Latta-Joel Rechlicz
John Erskine-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Tomas Kundratek
David Kolomatis-Cameron Schilling
Patrick Wey-Michal Cajkovsky
Michal Neuvirth, David Leggio