Dale Mitchell was picked in the 3rd round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, 74th overall. At the time of the selection, Mitchell garnered plenty of interest and pressure from the fans and media as the Leafs' first pick that year. They had traded away their 1st and 2nd round picks to San Jose as part of the Vesa Toskala trade earlier that day. A little over a year later, Mitchell has quickly been forgetten, partly from a disappointing OHL season, and partly from the emergence of his fellow draftmate Chris Didomenico, selected in the 6th round.
Mitchell is a small but stocky winger at 5'9, 206 lbs, and has often been described by scouts as a "bulldog". ISS scouting put it another way: "He's built like a fire hydrant, and plays like a bull". Dale is an excellent skater, with an excellent shot, and soft hands around the net which attributed to a breakout '06-'07 campaign in which he scored 43 goals and 80 points in just 67 games. The most remarkable part of all this is the fact that Mitchell received only 2nd line minutes and 2nd unit PP time.
Mitchell is one of those rare undersized players who may actually be able to contribute in a bottom six role at the NHL level if he doesn't cut it as an offensive forward. He is a fierce, hard-nosed competitor who doesn't shy away from the physical game and is very tough to knock off the puck. Dale is a heart and soul type player who will do everything it takes to win, but at times, his emotions can get out of control.
Entering draft weekend, Mitchell had soared up from his October ranking of 93rd overall, all the way up to a possible mid 2nd round selection. Scouts loved the fact that he seemed like a very safe pick to have a useful NHL career, while also possessing plenty of untapped upside since he was buried behind the likes of Tavares and Maclean in Oshawa. In fact, the ISS scouting agency had Mitchell ranked as the #2 overall in the most underrated and #5 overall in the tough as nails categories. Sounds exactly the type of player the Leafs are currently looking to fill their system with.
After the Leafs managed to scoop up Mitchell in the 3rd round, it was generally deemed a very solid pick by the organization. However, Mitchell went on to disappoint tremendously last year, posting just 24 goals and 36 assists. But hang on, there is still plenty of reason for optimism. Dale started off the season in a dreadful slump, scoring just 7 points in his first 17 games. Part of the reason seemed to be that he tried to reel himself in a bit more, and play a calmer, more disciplined style of hockey, which just didn't seem to suit him.
After a while, Mitchell started picking up the pace again, and regained his stride and "all or nothing" style of play. He carried his hot streak with him into the playoffs where he performed like a beast for Oshawa, grabbing the team lead in scoring with 10 goals, 16 points, and 23 PIM in only 15 games.
This season, Mitchell will be returning to the OHL, but playing instead for the Windsor Spitfires, once again in the shadow of one of the game's great young stars, 2010 projected top 3 pick, Taylor Hall. With Windsor's top 2 forwards being centres, it looks like Mitchell will finally get a shot to play with some great offensive players, as well as see increased ice time.
What should we hope for and expect from Dale Mitchell this season? Well, we need to see that he's kept the fire that drove him down the strech of last season, and that he can light up the scoresheet again. 35+ goals, along with a refined all-around game would be considered a success. Mitchell will likely get another shot with the Marlies at the end of the year, and if his scoring abilities translate to the pro level, then we may find ourselves with a real gem.
Looking forward to a big year from a small guy.
Always a pleasure,
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