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Lost in the Avalanche: John Mitchell

A serviceable depth player saw plenty in Denver.

Calgary Flames v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

John Mitchell may be remembered by some as an underrated depth player in the successful miracle year 2013-14 season. Others may remember him as a shell of himself in that horrific 48-point season in 2016-17. Mitchell experienced both the highs and lows in Colorado.

Mitchell was born in Oakville, Ontario in 1985. At just 15-years old, Mitchell broke onto the scene with the Waterloo Siskins in the MWJHL. In 47 games, he recorded 15 goals and 29 assists for 44 points. Just under a point a game player, Mitchell certainly had eyes glancing his way for his performance at such a young age.

The most prolific stints of his career came in the OHL with the Plymouth Whalers. He spent four seasons in a Whalers uniform from 2001 to 2005. While only getting 18 points in 62 games his first year, it was only up from there for the youngster. His best season point-wise was in 2003-04, where he totaled 28 goals and 54 assists in 65 games. However, his Whalers were upset in the playoffs and didn’t end up on top this season.

Plymouth Whalers v London Knights Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Mitchell would test the AHL waters just a couple of seasons later after being selected in the fifth round of the 2003 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and played for their AHL-affiliate Toronto Marlies. After playing two more seasons in the OHL he finally played for the organization which drafted him starting in 2005-06. In 203 games for the Marlies, he recorded 41 goals and 63 assists, only getting better towards the end of the three years with the Marlies. It eventually caught the attention of the Maple Leafs, who called him up for his first NHL action in the 2008-09 season.

He would spend three years playing for the original six squad, but his numbers dropped off every single year. He only produced 20 goals and 35 assists in his three years with the maple leaf on his chest. The NHL game was drastically different than what he’d experienced in the OHL and AHL and he didn't adapt as well as he’d wished. It earned him a trip back down to the AHL.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Atlanta Thrashers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

He played 10 more games for the Marlies in 2010-11 before being traded to the New York Rangers farm system. He played for the Connecticut Whale for two seasons without putting up any impressive numbers, only grabbing 14 goals and 12 assists. He did manage to break into the Rangers' first team for one season in 2011-12, with only five goals and 11 assists in 63 games. Despite making the Eastern Conference Final, he got an additional assist and was a no-show.

After his one-year stint in the Big Apple, he would be moved to the Colorado Avalanche on a two-year, $1.1M AAV deal. He wound up playing in Colorado for five seasons, one of the longest tenures for the Avs in this “Lost in the Avalanche” series so far. His initial season ended up lasting 47 games, with an even 10 goals and assists, including his first Avalanche goal on his first shift against the rival Minnesota Wild.

His most successful NHL season came in the one-season wonder for the Avalanche that was the 2013-14 miracle year. Under Patrick Roy’s new coaching style breaking into the league, Mitchell fit in well. He found himself on the third line most often, occasionally even centering Matt Duchene’s line. He also found himself compatible with the power play as well.

In that ‘13-14 season, Mitchell put up a career-best in points in the NHL with 11 goals and 21 assists. His total number would’ve been higher if he’d played more than 75 games and not missed out in all seven playoff games that year. He certainly was influential in the regular season, however, helping the Avs win the Central Division that year.

Mitchell did well the following season too, getting the same 11-goal season but dropping his assist total down to 15. In 68 games, he put somewhat similar numbers as he did the previous season but this would be the best two-year stretch Mitchell had in an Avs jersey before it all went downhill.

NHL Hockey Colorado Avalanche vs Winnipeg Jets Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images

In 2015-16, Mitchell only got 10 goals and 11 assists in what was a downward year for the Avs before the massive collapse that was the 48-point 2016-17 season. This would be his final year in Colorado and Mitchell was severely underwhelming as he was nearing the end of his professional hockey career. In that disastrous season, Mitchell was a mess on the ice with only three goals, four assists, a whopping -12, and a high 45 minutes of penalties in 65 games. This would spell a crashing end to his NHL career, as he would never play another game in the NHL after this season.

While his time in Colorado was the most amount of time he spent with any NHL team, he saw the highs of being a successful team with the Rangers making the ECF, to the incredible low of that 48-point season. While Mitchell wasn’t the prolific goal scorer he was back in his OHL days, he was serviceable at best and did well to stand up for his guys when he needed to, such as standing up to Dustin Byfuglien here.

Mitchell never saw the same success in Colorado as he did elsewhere. He played in the playoffs with the aforementioned Rangers in 2012, but that would be the only playoff adventure he’d go on in the NHL. He would’ve played in the 2014 playoffs if he wasn’t injured crashing hard into the boards back-first. Would he have pushed the Avs over the top in 2014 over the Minnesota Wild? Perhaps, but with his lack of playoff success, it might not have made an impact either.

Mitchell would play back in the AHL for one year and only three games with the Cleveland Monsters but did get a goal and assist in those three games. His North American hockey playing days were over after this, as he then went overseas to Germany for the rest of the 2017-18 season with the Nuremberg Thomas Sabo Ice Dogs, actually putting up some good numbers with 17 goals and 26 assists including the postseason.

He moved to Munich EHC for the 2018-19 season and it would end up being his final season of professional hockey. His stat-line wasn’t bad to end his career as he put up some higher numbers with 13 goals and 25 assists. While Munich had won the German title the previous three seasons in a row, Mitchell would fall just one spot short of the championship with Munich after his arrival in both the Deutsche Eishockey Liga and the Champions Hockey League.

EHC Red BUll Muenchen v Fischtown Pinguins Bremerhaven - DEL Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images

After his retirement in 2019, he’s been a part of the Colorado Hockey Alum and built a “brotherhood” on the ice with other NHL alumni players and the Colorado Warriors according to the Denver Post back in 2021. He also is a coach for Okanagan Hockey Colorado and enjoying life with his wife Gracyn and son Oliver, still being heavily present with hockey in the Centennial State. He even hosted a couple of events with fans leading up to the Avs’s most recent run to the Stanley Cup.

While Mitchell just missed out on hardware in his career, he can look back to his time as a serviceable player for multiple NHL teams who occasionally sprouted up point-wise back to his OHL days as a young kid. While his NHL days in Colorado started well after some struggles on the East Coast in big markets, he eventually faltered at the end of his NHL career to wind up being “Lost in the Avalanche.”