With parts of two AHL seasons under his belt, the Regina, Saskatchewan native has made the jump to the NHL appearing in 31 games for the Ducks while averaging close to 14:00 of ice time. The rookie blueliner has been learning the ropes with each passing game and is being relied upon to help help the Ducks as they fight for their playoff lives. Former Norris trophy winner and Ducks Head coach Randy Carlyle has been pleased with Mikkelson’s progress and gave his keys for the defenseman’s continued progress.
"I think with Mikkelson the key is to keep it simple and utilize his skating ability and first and foremost if you’re going to make any mistakes you make them up along the wall," stated Carlyle. "You keep the puck out of the middle unless you’re 100 percent sure and move the puck with effectiveness on the back end. Good first pass, good defensively, all those things keep people to the outside."
It’s clear that Mikkelson has been following his coach’s advice. Paired with second-year veteran Sheldon Brookbank, they have earned a +5 over the course of the past seven games — games in which the Ducks have won six and lost just one. Mikkelson himself has been plus or even over the last 13 consecutive games, proving that while his game may not be flashy (he has one point in 31 NHL games), he’s been reliable.
Hockey’s Future caught up with the rookie defenseman to get his take on the season and the Ducks playoff hunt.
HF: What’s the year been like for you from being one of the final cuts in camp to being called up to Anaheim?
BM: It’s been a different year that’s for sure you know its my first year of being up and down but its a lot of fun when you’re up here and you try to just make the best of it. That’ is the biggest thing. You know just trying to make sure you earn your keep and earn the coach’s trust everyday.
HF: Has there been an adjustment from the AHL to the NHL and if so what was it?
BM: Absolutely, first of the all the first couple of games there’s just the thrill of [being in the NHL] and once you get those over with you kind of just, I shouldn’t say to say settle in, but you get more used to it. You start to focus more on what you need to do and how you’re playing not just ‘oh my gosh, I’m playing in the NHL’ so there’s been a lot more of that lately [for me]. You know just trying to improve on a lot of little things because I think that’s the biggest difference between the American league and the NHL is a lot of those little positioning things that are tough to see but once you’ve been out there for a bit and get in a fair amount of games you really start to see them and get exposed when you do make mistakes.
HF: You have a number of former Iowa teammates here in the dressing room, has having such a large number of them around helped you adjust and make that transition to the NHL?
BM: I think it’s just familiarity, you’re more used to the guys in the room which helps you get used to the things on the ice a lot easier. I think a good room leads to a good product on the ice so I think the two go hand in hand. So I think that familiarity — kind of knowing guys, playing with them last year and having that long playoff run too with them knowing that they’ve gone to bat with you is a big thing.
HF: You’ve been paired with Sheldon Brookbank lately do you think you guys have chemistry and what’s made that work?
BM: I think so I think just familiarity from playing together for the last little while [creates chemistry]. For a little while, the [defensive] pairings were changing quite a bit and that’s part of things too and you have to work with that — but playing with Sheldon and getting some consistency [has helped]. As far as knowing tendencies and little things out there that aren’t just noticeable sometimes but when you get out there with a guy and play with him a lot you get to know more about where he is out there on the ice. I’m sure you notice when Perry-Getzlaf-Bobby are out there. It’s kind of like they don’t look but they just know where each other are so a little bit that comes into play [with Sheldon and me].
HF: Have you had a welcome to the NHL moment and what was it?
BM: I think it was just when I got the call. I think I got the call on New Year’s and I kind of found out at two in the morning on New Year’s. We just lost in Grand Rapids 6-0. I was like [there’s] no chance now of getting called up now but at two in the morning I get a text from our assistant coach asking if I had talked to some of the guys up here and I was like no and I was thinking [am I getting called up] and then it was like 2:30, 3:00 in the morning when I found out you might be going up you might not so that was like kind of my welcome to the NHL moment because it was like middle of the night. It just hit me right then it was pretty cool.
HF: You guys are in the midst of a tight race for a playoff spot. What’s that been like in your first year to get the opportunity to experience that?
BM: The last few games we were able to play well and get some bounces on top of that and you know you need those and as far as the tight playoff race goes that’s you know it’s an exciting part of the year and the time of the year and the games you want to be in as a player cause the intensity and everything really goes along with it really helps you see what you’re actually made of. Last year I was lucky in Maine. We were able to make a pretty good playoff run so I was able to get some playoff intensity type experience there but this year, obviously in the NHL, it’s a lot different and I’m just happy to be a part of it, taking it, it’s a cliché, one game at a time and trying to earn my keep.
HF: Has that hit you yet that you’re now part of it?
BM: Yes and no, I try to enjoy it and realize how fortunate and lucky I am to be here but at the same time I’m not unpacking my suitcase yet (laughs), so I’m not going to get too ahead of myself…just one step at a time, right?