The Washington Capitals and GM Brian MacLellan completed their first free agency move on Tuesday, re-signing forward prospect Garrett Mitchell to a two-year, two-way contract. Mitchell has yet to appear in an NHL game, but the move bodes well for Mitchell, as the team clearly still believes he holds NHL potential.
The team released the following statement to the media on Tuesday.
“Mitchell, 23, registered eight points (four goals, four assists) and 121 penalty minutes in 64 games with the Hershey Bears (AHL) in 2014-15. He earned two points (one goal, one assist) on Feb. 28 against Albany and ranked tied for fourth on the team in penalty minutes. The 5’11”, 183-pound right-wing has served as an alternate captain for the Bears in each of the last two seasons (2013-15). Mitchell has earned 55 points (25 goals, 30 assists) and 349 penalty minutes in 224 career AHL games with Hershey.” – Capitals PR
Like most NHL farm systems, teams have no shortage of bottom-six forwards in their system, simply because acquiring elite players isn’t easy to do and those players often quickly become NHL regulars within their first few years of professional hockey. Washington’s forward prospects that are similar to Mitchell’s talent level include Caleb Herbert, Chandler Stephenson, Travis Boyd, Nathan Walker and Chris Brown. All of these players aspire to make the Capitals roster out of training camp in a fourth line role.
Forward Michael Latta is a candidate to replace Capitals unrestricted free agent center Jay Beagle on the fourth line next season as well. Beagle’s experience and playoff success should earn him a substantial contract in the free agent market relative to the average fourth line player signed to an NHL contract next season. Paul Gaustad and Max Talbot are case studies of fourth line players who get overpaid in free agency, both in term and annual salary.
Mitchell’s AHL Experience
Mitchell’s best pro season in hockey following his selection by Washington in sixth round of the 2009 draft came during the 2012-13 campaign where the former Regina Pat totaled 15 goals and 15 assists in 75 regular season games for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL). He achieved career highs in goals (15), assists (15) and shots on goal (106) in just his second full season with the club.
Mitchell played in just 17 games during the 2013-14 season due to a shoulder injury, where surgery forced him to sit out early in the year after attempting to play through it. The results were obvious as Mitchell’s ability to perform was severely impaired and he had just two points to show for it.
Under former Bears coach Mark French, Mitchell opened eyes of Capitals prospects and NHL scouts. A Winnipeg Jets scout was impressed by his work ethic and told The Hockey Writers during the 2013-14 season that his motor would be the key for Mitchell to reach the NHL.
“He’s obviously demonstrating more offensive confidence this year, which is probably reasonable to assume with his development. He’s going to play in the NHL, I’ve got no doubt about it. If he continues to blossom, he’s a pretty important player for the organization.” – Former Hershey Bears Coach Mark French in 2013
Does Mitchell Have NHL Skills?
The two-year pact gives Mitchell enough time to prove himself in Washington’s system as well as gives him multiple opportunities to prove his abilities are worthy of fourth line minutes in the nation’s capital. He’s a strong skater for his small size and has good acceleration, which gives him an advantage over competition such as Michael Latta, but only in that regard. Latta is a more experienced NHL player and offers a more physical brand than Mitchell.
“I like the fact on a two-year deal that he’s got every opportunity now to prove what he can do as a player. I think he’s matured as a professional and Washington stepping up and giving him a two-year deal, they’re investing the time in him. They know they’ve got something special there.” – Jason Davidson, Garrett Mitchell’s agent via the Washington Post
The jury is still out on whether Mitchell is still a legitimate prospect in the Capitals system. He will be near the bottom of all prospect lists and will have minimal NHL impact, but Mitchell is still valuable. Mitchell’s contract is inexpensive which can aid the Capitals if they spend big this summer. /The last thing MacLellan should be doing is building a costly fourth line for the 2015-16 season. A good summer and a strong training camp will be the path Mitchell must take to jumpstart his hockey career.