There are 8 new faces on the Florida Panthers roster this season. One of them is the 8th team captain in franchise history. Willie Mitchell was given a red jersey with the “C” atop Mount Tourne at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Monday. Mitchell admitted to being surprised by the announcement. Here is the press release from the Panthers:
Sunrise, FL- Florida Panthers Head Coach Gerard Gallant announced today that D Willie Mitchell has been named captain for the 2014-15 season. He joins Brian Skrudland (1993-1997), Scott Mellanby (1997-2001), Paul Laus/Pavel Bure (2001-2002), Olli Jokinen (2005-2008), Bryan McCabe (2009-2011) and Ed Jovanovski (2013-2014) as the other team captains in the club’s 21-year history.
Mitchell, 37, has played in 795 career National Hockey League games for New Jersey (1999-2001), Minnesota (2000-2006), Dallas (2005-2006), Vancouver (2006-2010) and Los Angeles (2010-2014), scoring 30 goals with 135 assists and 744 penalty minutes. He has played in 89 post-season games, registering 16 points (4-12-16), winning the Stanley Cup twice with Los Angeles in 2012 and 2014.
Mitchell served as captain of the Wild in January of 2006 during Minnesota’s rotating captaincy as well as an alternate captain in Vancouver.
The Port McNeill, British Columbia native, was selected by the New Jersey Devils in the eighth round (199th overall) in the 1996 NHL Draft and becomes the eighth captain in Panthers history. Florida signed Mitchell to a two-year contact on July 1, 2014.
The players were excited at the news, and Mitchell’s experience as a champion will be heavily relied upon with a roster as young as the Cats.
There were four assistant captains named as well. At home Brian Campbell and newcomer Derek MacKenzie will don the “A” and on the road Scottie Upshall and Dave Bolland will share the honor.
For an organization that has been highly unstable for the over a decade, today’s news is another step moving in the right direction.
Erik Gudbranson is one of the most popular players on the team, both with the players and the fans. There has been a lot of speculation that Mitchell and Gudbranson will be paired together, which will result in Mitchell passing the captaincy torch to the young defenseman in a few years.
This is a very important season for Gudbranson. The 3rd overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft has yet to develop into the type of player GM Dale Tallon was hoping for as the 22-year-old starts his 4th season.
In fairness Gudbranson has only played in 169 NHL games, which is far short of the 300 barometer most teams use to gage a defensemen’s development. He has also played on terrible offensive teams that were annihilated by injuries. But his career statistics of 5 goals, 16 assists, and -48 rating leave much to be desired from a player who already brings incredible toughness night in and night out.
A polished, complete game is what GM Dale Tallon is looking for from Gudbranson. He is signed for the next two seasons at $2.5 million per year, which is when Mitchell’s contract would expire.
While the timing would be right, the chances of Gudbranson being the 9th captain for the Florida Panthers will largely depend on his improvement between now and then.
There is no question no one is more determined to improve than Gudbranson. I’ve seen him in the locker room after tough losses and it is not a pretty sight, especially if he didn’t play well. He has all the tools to be a great player. If and when he puts it all together, the Panthers could be set for a long time in terms of their defense and captain situation.
In two seasons, players like Nick Bjugstad and Dave Bolland may also garner serious consideration for the position. At this time Gudbranson named as the heir apparent seems premature.
What do you think? Would Gudbranson make the perfect fit as the next captain or is it truly and wait-and-see situation?
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