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Photo: 2014 USA TODAY Sports Images

A key cog in the Kings’ historic run to the Stanley Cup, defenseman Willie Mitchell was eager to help his team defend their first title in franchise history. Unfortunately, the lockout prolonged many NHL players’ summers, including Mitchell’s as he opted not to play in Europe. While working out to stay ready for the upcoming season, Mitchell suffered a knee injury that required surgery. Setbacks during rehab eventually required a second surgery.

The additional surgery forced Mitchell to miss the entire rest of the season and his presence was greatly missed throughout the entire season, especially in the playoffs. A steadying veteran on the blue line, Mitchell’s poise and keen hockey IQ left the Kings’ defensive corps incomplete and this was no more obvious than in the Western Conference Finals.

Tired, beaten up and outclassed in speed and skill, the Kings were no match for eventual Cup winners Chicago Blackhawks. Rookie Jake Muzzin seemed to have a difficult time with his reads and Darryl Sutter was forced to lean heavily on veterans Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi and Robyn Regehr. The general consensus at the end of the season seemed to be that if they at least had Willie Mitchell, they would’ve had a better shot at winning that series and possibly repeating.

It wasn’t just Mitchell’s calm presence the Kings missed, though that was a significant part of it. With a tattered blue line at the start of the season combined with the up and down seasons of Muzzin, Martinez and Doughty (who had a slow start) by the end, LA sorely lacked Mitchell’s wisdom and knowledge. The Mayor John Hoven once wrote that if you asked Mitchell the time, he wouldn’t only tell you, but he’d also tell you how to build a watch.

Not ready to call it quits, Mitchell remained in LA during the season and the summer preparing for the start of the 2013-2014 season. He constantly took to Twitter to share his support for his teammates. On June 12, 2013, he once again went to his favorite social media outlet to express his commitment to returning.

Today, 36 year old Willie Mitchell is back patrolling LA’s blue line. He will be an important factor in the Kings’ push for the Cup as they look to make another deep post-season run. He has overcome long odds, but love for the game fueled an inspirational return for the long time veteran, which makes him a great candidate for the Bill Masterton award.

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