Mitchell impressing his coach

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

There are an abundance of jobs up for grabs with the Maple Leafs this season, but head coach Ron Wilson can't say he's been all that impressed with the effort of some of the players who are on the bubble at training camp.

"A little bit, yeah," Wilson said yesterday when asked if he feels some players really haven't stepped up in their quest for a job in the NHL. "But we still have three (pre-season) games left and we've been banged up a little bit with some injuries. The last three games, hopefully some guys have a little bit more of a sense of urgency to step their play up."

One player who has jumped to the forefront as a rookie and now is expected to make the opening day roster on Oct.9 against the Detroit Red Wings, is forward John Mitchell, a 2003 Leafs draft choice (158th overall), who has played three seasons with the AHL Marlies and was that club's leading goal-scorer and second in total points last season, but has yet to play a game in the NHL.

Mitchell, 23, has been one of the better players at camp and in the pre-season, recording three assists in five games. In a 7-3 loss Wednesday in St. Louis, the Oakville native played with two highly skilled newcomers in Niklas Hagman and Mikhail Grabovski, and the line played well.

"He's shown me a lot," Wilson said of the 6-foot-1, 195-pound rookie. "He's got really good speed ... and he's been able to bring that speed to the game. He made a couple of great plays (Wednesday night), and he plays with a little bit of an edge. And I think he's versatile. He's a natural centre, but because of our depth at centre, if he wants to make the team, he'll probably have to play a bit on the wing.

"But at his age, beggars can't be choosers. He's going to have to change position to get into the lineup."

Mitchell, who raised eyebrows last season when he scored eight playoff goals for the Marlies, is perfectly fine switching to the wing, although he realizes he probably won't start the season with Hagman and Grabovski.

Nikolai Kulemin, another newcomer, likely will be placed back on that line when he returns from a knee injury. But Mitchell is almost certain to start the season riding chartered airplanes, not buses.

"I feel really good about this training camp so far. Ron's giving me a lot of opportunity to play on the power play and penalty kill and a regular shift ... and when he gives me that opportunity, I can't let that go to waste," Mitchell said. "I've said my goal every summer, since I was drafted by Toronto, was to make the team, but obviously some years are more realistic than others. I had a good playoff last year so they obviously took a liking to that and they wanted to give me an opportunity to show what I can do out there.

"(But) I don't want to try to put any more pressure on myself. I already have enough pressure as it is, trying to make this team as somebody who's played three years in the minors," he added. "I just want to go out there and do the little things that I've been doing so far that have given me some success."


Videos

Photos