When we talk young prospects, typically we are discussing players drafted or picked up through a trade. These players cost more than just the contracts they have signed, but some other asset such as the draft pick or a player shipped out. This puts a larger burden on the Wild's front office staff to get it right.
Coming in at 20 in our Top 25 Under 25, Zack Mitchell is a special breed of prospect. Mitchell was signed to a 3-year deal as an undrafted free agent in March of 2014. A largely unheralded signing, but one that does not hit the pocket book too hard, nor did it cost the organization any assets to acquire. Mitchell's rise to the professional leagues came through hard work, and perseverance. He's been passed over in the entry draft, had invites to training camps yet did not find himself with a contract in hand until the Wild came knocking at his door.
Mitchell comes to us from Guelph Storm of the OHL where after a couple seasons posting some not-so-great numbers, he blew the doors open in 2011-12 putting up 37 goals and 38 assists in 67 games. He enjoyed a couple more successful seasons with Guelph Storm, helping the team earn a Memorial Cup berth in 2014 where he posted 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 20 playoff games.
Mitchell's numbers took a dip when he came up to the Iowa Wild last season. It's not uncommon for a player to see his numbers drop when coming up to the AHL. It shouldn't be much for the organization to be concerned about at this point. Along with that, the entire Iowa Wild roster struggled to do much of anything last season amidst the turmoil that saw former head coach Kurt Kleinendorst fired just 12 games into the season and replaced with former Houston Aeros coach John Torchetti.
The knock on Mitchell has been his skating. He's not terribly quick out there, yet he has displayed (in the OHL at least) an ability to get to the scoring areas and has at times shown off his gifted hands and goal scoring ability. The question remains however of how his game will translate into the AHL/NHL. Nobody really expects Mitchell to turn into the next Martin St. Louis. St. Louis, as you may be aware was another undrafted player who climbed the ranks and became a household name in the NHL. Mitchell did however draw comparisons due to his work ethic on the ice to one Zach Parise when profiled in last years #T25U25.
Watching the video above, you can see a good example of Zack's play off the puck. As Joel Eriksson Ek takes the puck off the wall, Mitchell instictively drives towards the weak side of the net. The pass filters through the lone defender and Zack has an easy bucket, going 5-hole against Stephen Michalek as he tries to adjust his angle on the pass. It's smart plays like this that show there is some promise for the young forward to develop and make his way to the NHL some day.
Zack Mitchell signing as a undrafted free agent gives the Wild an opportunity to develop a low-risk/high-reward player. He works hard on the ice, and plays a two-way game which as we are all aware, the Wild are quite fond of. This will be his 2nd season in the AHL and he will be given every chance to prove that he belongs. The clock is ticking however for Mitchell. At 22, he's likely starting to come into his prime years as an athlete. He's got 2 seasons left on his contract, and until he starts showing some big strides in his game, he will not likely find his name on the short list of players who can expect to get called up to the big club this season.