When the Leafs selected Center John Mitchell of the Plymouth Whalers with the 158th overall pick (5th round) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, they knew that they were acquiring the rights to a very complete hockey player. Mitchell was the 74th ranked North American skater by the Central Scouting Bureau going into the draft. The 6’1″, 185-pound two-way forward has lived up to his billing.
Born in Waterloo, Ontario, Mitchell played for the hometown Waterloo Siskins of the Midwestern Ontario Junior B league as a teenager. The Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers saw enough from Mitchell to make him the 19th overall selection in the 2001 OHL Priority Draft. Mitchell showed enough skill and savvy to stick with the club in his first attempt, playing 62 games in the 2001-02 season, albeit in a limited role. He finished with 9 goals and 9 assists, a solid effort from a rookie on an perennially deep Plymouth team. He was also Plymouth’s nominee for the William Hanley Trophy, given to the OHL’s most sportsmanlike player.
Moving into the 2002-03 OHL season, Mitchell was set to take on a more offensive role with the club, and also take over from former Leafs prospect Kris Vernarsky as Plymouth’s top defensive forward. Mitchell had already established himself as a hard working, excellent defensive center, but to what capacity he could contribute offensively was somewhat unknown. His sophomore season ended up being a success on many levels. He finished the year with 18 goals and 37 assists in 68 games, more than tripling the offensive output from his rookie season. He was again the Whalers nominee for the William Hanley Trophy for sportsmanship, showing that a defensive forward doesn’t have to be overly physical.
During the playoffs, the Whalers were eliminated in the Western Conference Semi-finals by the Kitchener Rangers (who went on to win the Memorial Cup) in a grueling seven game series. Mitchell played well, notching 2 goals and 10 assists, further advancing his ranking for the upcoming NHL draft.
After the Leafs drafted Mitchell in 2003, he attended the Leafs “B” training camp during the summer, which was held at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. St John’s Maple Leafs head coach Doug Shedden and Toronto top scout, Barry Trapp, ran the camp. Attending this “prospect” camp included some of Toronto’s top prospects: Kyle Wellwood, Jay Harrison, Ian White and non-roster tryout Jamie Pushor. Mitchell played well and opened some eyes, even though he only managed one assist in five scrimmages. He displayed the excellent two-way abilities that he was drafted for. Mitchell worked hard all camp and refused to back down from some of the older Leafs prospects. His offensive instincts make you believe there could be room for improvement on the scoresheet.
After impressing the Leafs brass in Kitchener, it was back to concentrating on the upcoming OHL season for Mitchell, where he was again ready to take on a larger role for the Whalers after they lost top scorers, Chad Larose and Karl Stewart. The new Whalers Assistant Captain has done very well for himself so far this year, with 10 goals and 12 assists in 24 games and the Whalers currently sit seventh in the Western Conference with a 12-8-5-2 record. Mitchell’s 24 points put him fourth in team scoring, but on pace to improve his career best in points and increase his goal output a considerable amount. He is currently playing on one of the Whalers top scoring lines, centering John Vigilante (who went undrafted in 2003) and Jonas Fiedler (3rd round selection of the San Jose Sharks in 2002). Mitchell is also seeing time on both special teams units and boasts a +5 rating. His consistency offensively still needs to improve in order to catch up to his effectiveness as a checker and defensive forward.
Next year Mitchell will continue to improve with Plymouth, as the 19-year-old will have one year of junior eligibility left following the current season.