Since I didn't see a lot of Zack Mitchell when he played for the Guelph Storm of the OHL, I didn't know what to expect from him in his first professional season. After all, he didn't get drafted even though he's a guy who is 6'0" tall and scored 83 points in the OHL in his overage season. I thought there must be some reason no one would risk even a late round pick on a guy who could produce to that level. But in his first pro season, I've been impressed with his consistency and his commitment to working hard all over the ice. And I can't figure out why he went undrafted.
He is a versatile player, useful in all situations. Mitchell is important to Iowa's power play and penalty kill, and he excels in these roles. Even better, he looked focused and consistent, even before Iowa's recent coaching change. He also skates quickly, and he's also quite maneuverable on the ice. With 4 goals and 3 assists, he doesn't lead the team in points, but he is contributing an expected amount. This production has him tied for 27th among AHL rookies, which is pretty good considering Iowa's early problems. He is aggressive on the forecheck and on the penalty kill, and can play physically when it is useful. When he hits, it's because he wants to get the puck for himself or his teammates.
When Mitchell was not selected in the 2011, he was talked about as a likely draft pick in 2012, where he was passed up again. Brock Otten, on OHL Prospects, liked Mitchell's game enough to highlight him before the 2012 draft:
The first thing you notice about Mitchell is his high end stickhandling ability. He keeps the puck on a string in the offensive end and is very elusive. He's also got a very good shot and doesn't need a lot of room to get it off. Lastly, despite not really being a physically aggressive player, he's not afraid to take the puck hard to the net or go digging for pucks in the crease. The rest of his game is a little raw, but his offensive skill set forces you to take notice.
The most encouraging aspect of Mitchell's game is that he has taken all of his strengths from junior hockey and continued them in professional hockey.
Mitchell is all over the highlights of the November 8th game against Chicago, a game where Iowa played pretty well despite the loss. At the 12 second mark, he swoops towards the net, ready to pop a loose puck into the net or to receive a pass from his teammates behind the net. Iowa's first goal of the game was created off a Mitchell takeaway, followed by a great pass to Hagel. For Iowa's second goal, Mitchell gets a breakaway, picks a spot and shoots. And it's a good shot. This was his first two point pro game, but since Mitchell is so consistent, it is possible to watch any game from this year and see thoughtful defense and offensive strengths.
Mitchell's game is all about being consistent, steady and versatile, which is basically Wild hockey. He went from being a leader for the Guelph Storm to playing in every situation in his first professional season. In doing so, he displays the work ethic that got him this far.