Mr. Dependable

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

For a guy who's stats are usually not an indication of his value, this one speak volumes.

This season, the Vancouver Canucks are more likely to score, than get scored on, when Willie Mitchell is on the ice.

Heading into last night's game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Canucks defenceman led his team with an impressive plus-30 rating.

"It's been a good year, but it's been a product of how the team is playing as well," Mitchell said. "I've always seemed to play on teams where we haven't scored a lot, but this year we've been able to score a little more. So if you're on the ice and you're not getting goals scored on you, which is something I take pride in, obviously your plus-minus is going to go up."

Mitchell is the Canucks big shutdown defenceman. He's the player the team most wants on the ice late in games when they're protecting leads. And considering the Canucks have been leading a number of games lately, Mitchell has found himself on the ice quite often.

"The thing about Willie, is that sometimes there are games where a player struggles," said Canucks assistant coach Rick Bowness. "But when the game is on the line, some players are able to get out of those struggles and their intensity level goes up, and they can just focus on playing well for those last 10 minutes.

REAL COMPETITOR

"Willie is able to do that. If it's a 3-2 game and you are trying to hold on to a one-goal lead all of a sudden his game can go up. That tells you what kind of competitor he is."

Originally selected by the New Jersey Devils in the eighth round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, Mitchell, 31, was signed by the Canucks as a free agent three seasons ago. He had spent time with the Devils, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars before becoming a fixture on the Canucks blue-line.

"When Willie first came here, you knew what you were getting defensively because he is very reliable and he can shut down anyone," Bowness said. "But he moves the puck well and he shoots the puck as well as anybody on our defence. We've told him from Day 1 to shoot the puck more and he's doing that and getting more points. He's shooting the puck a lot quicker and he's getting a lot more points because of that."

Going into the game against the Oilers, Mitchell had a career-high 22 points with three goals and 19 assists. He took a page from the playbook of Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray, which has helped him in the offensive end.

"I really looked at Sheldon Souray's game," Mitchell said. "I don't know why sometimes in your career things go off in your head and this year I started to shoot the puck more.

"In the past, a lot of times I would get it and push it back along the wall. Now, I'm shooting at the net and if I can't hit the net, I'll shoot it towards the net. That's been different for me and I've been able to provide some offence. I don't get any power-play time, so I take pride that I'm able to chip in that way."

CHIPPING IN

It's unlikely Mitchell will ever develop into offensive defenceman, his top priority will always be in his own zone. But he's a more well-rounded blue-liner with the Canucks then he's ever been with any other organization.

"I didn't like the stereotype to be honest," he said. "I didn't like to be thought of as just a defensive player. I wanted to add to that without sacrificing and I've been able to do that by shooting more. Hopefully I can keep doing that."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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