Willie Mitchell, Kings ready for Saturday's opener in Vancouver
Like his Kings teammates, Willie Mitchell is eager to play in Saturday’s season opener at Vancouver against the Canucks.
But the veteran defenseman has a special reason to anticipate this game: it will be his first since he suffered a severe concussion last Jan. 16 while playing for the Canucks against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It will be really nice to get back," said Mitchell, who signed a two-year, $7-million free-agent contract with the Kings in August. "It will be a lot of fun."
Mitchell couldn’t be sure this day would arrive. His injury was so severe that he had to avoid noise and bright lights — and hockey games. That includes not attending the Canucks’ playoff series against the Kings.
"You have a physical injury when you have a concussion but there’s also emotional because stress on the body gives you a headache. That’s what a concussion is. You get stress in your life — what are you going to do about it?" he said Friday before the team boarded its charter flight to Vancouver.
"So as much as it hurt me to do it I just kind of disconnected. Then I started feeling better. The L.A. series, I watched a little bit, casually, and then I started to get some phone calls from friends from the team who were penalty killers. And assistant coach Rick Bowness, who does the penalty kill. 'Willie, what’s going on?' "
Those calls were prompted by the Kings’ 10 power-play goals in that six game series, which the Canucks won. Mitchell tried to help from a distance.
"Sometimes when you’re outside the box you see some different things," he said. "They called me for some advice and when that happened I kind of got engaged again, trying to help out in that way. I couldn’t help out on the ice but maybe my experience and what I do on the penalty kill could help out with the team.
"I didn’t really see a lot of the series to be honest with you. It was my choice. I didn’t want to watch it because I just thought that stress of not being involved was going to really hurt me as far as my healing process."
The Kings are more than ready to get the season started. So ready, in fact, that Coach Terry Murray invoked a famous rant from an NBA player who thought practice was a tad overrated.
"I’ve talked to a few of the veteran players the last several days," Murray said, "and it’s been, 'Man, let’s get playing. Practice, practice.' It’s kind of like an Allen Iverson, 'Practice, practice. Talking about the MVP of the league, practice.' "
Six rookies made the Kings' opening-night roster and four will be in uniform. Jonathan Bernier will be the backup to Jonathan Quick, Kyle Clifford and Brayden Schenn are scheduled to play on the fourth line, and Jake Muzzin is scheduled to be paired on defense with Davis Drewiske. Trevor Lewis and Andrei Loktionov will be spare forwards.
Of that group, Clifford and Muzzin will be making their NHL debuts -- Bernier has played seven NHL games and Schenn has played one, at Vancouver last Nov. 26 on a one-day, amateur tryout contract.
Muzzin, 21, said he wasn't nervous.
"Not yet. Maybe when we get into Vancouver in warmup and start seeing everyone coming in," said Muzzin, who will also play the point with Jarret Stoll on the second power-play unit. "I had a good practice and feel comfortable."
He did well in the power-play practice. "We’re just looking to get shots through and get traffic to the net," he said. "Hopefully we get a lucky tip or rebound through to one of our guys or a screen and provide some secondary scoring on the power play."
He also said he's glad to have company breaking into the league.
"A lot of other guys are going through the same situation I am, younger and older," he said. "It’s good to have a bunch of guys here to talk about stuff and we’re all going through the same situation. It's easier to transition with guys your age."
We'll have more later at www.latimes.com/sports and more Saturday from Vancouver.