John Mitchell completely understands the opportunity that is before him.
The good news is, through two games, he’s been able to deliver.
Mitchell has come to life as the centre between the two most dangerous weapons on the Toronto Maple Leafs — Jason Blake, a speedy pest who despite his foibles still led the team in offence in 2008-09; and Phil Kessel, whose skill and goal-scoring ability give fans sudden hope.
“It’s a huge opportunity for me,” said Mitchell. “I’m not going to take anything for granted. I want to make sure I come ready for work every day, and try to make as much chemistry as I can.
“That starts in practice and in games. We’ve got to be talking to each other on the bench ... and during timeouts, before faceoffs, designing plays.”
It might be said that Mitchell has landed this job by default. Matt Stajan was the centre for Kessel’s first game as Leaf, but Stajan managed to play his way into coach Ron Wilson’s doghouse.
The No. 2 centre, Mikhail Grabovski, has some chemistry building with the other Russian speakers, Nikolai Kulemin and Alexei Ponikarvosky.
But Mitchell might be a good fit for the top line. Not only is he big, strong and fast, he’s happy to do the grunt work — dig it out of the corner, or stand in front of the net — while the two skilled linemates make the opposing defence dizzy with their passes.
“Those guys don’t like to dump it in, but if I get the puck I’ll chip it in and go chase it, get it off the boards to either one of them and they can make plays with it,” said Mitchell.
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