PHILADELPHIA – It’s two weeks before the NHL trade deadline.
Torrey Mitchell has been here before.
He experienced the deadline chaos last year, arriving in Buffalo, along with second-round draft picks in 2014 and 2016, from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick.
He again is a potential trade asset as the Buffalo Sabres are sure to make more deals before the March 2 cutoff.
“I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t crossed my mind whether I’ll be here after the trade deadline or not,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t eat away at me that’s for sure. I’ve been through it before. I think I’m mature enough at this stage to know that hockey’s a business first and crazy things happen. … Whatever happens, happens. Obviously I’d like to be a Buffalo Sabre. I enjoy my teammates and I enjoy Buffalo.”
Coming into Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Wells Fargo Arena, Mitchell has eight points (three goals and five assists) in 45 games.
But Mitchell’s pro game has never been about scoring. His best production year in the NHL was 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 2010-11 for the San Jose Sharks.
What he brings to the game are qualities coach Ted Nolan would like to see younger players, like Nikita Zadorov, emulate.
“Mitchell’s bringing energy,” Nolan said. “Every time he goes out, he goes out with a purpose and he’s competing hard. He’s skating. He’s doing everything we ask of him. … Can you imagine Zadorov working as hard as Mitchell with the skill set that he has? Those are definitely qualities we’re looking for. If skill doesn’t work, there’s no sense having it. Certain guys are blessed with certain talents and if they don’t bring what they can bring, they’re cheating themselves. But a guy like Mitchell, he’s limited on his skill set, but he’s not limited on his determination, and put in the right situations he’s as good as anyone.”
Lately the right situation for Mitchell has been playing center between Brian Gionta and Moulson, who along with McCormick re-signed with the Sabres as free agents in the summer.
Mitchell came to Buffalo primarily as a winger, although he played center in college at Vermont and in his first full season for the San Jose Sharks in 2007-08. He played the middle here and there throughout his career, never quite sure why coaches moved him to the wing. Truth be told, his preference is center where he feels he can best use his skating ability, but wherever he is on the ice is just fine.
“With Gio, it seems like you know what you’re going to get every time he steps on the ice,” Mitchell said. “He’s such an honest player. I try to be really responsible in all three zones and Mouls, we like to think he’s our goal scorer. He’s our shooter and we gotta try to find him. It hasn’t been that way in the last couple of weeks, but we’ve been sound and solid when we’ve been out there.”
The play hasn’t evolved into goals or wins. The line doesn’t have any points together over the last five games as Moulson’s two assists in that span came on the power play. The team has only two wins in its last 21 games.
The last five games have been decided by one goal. The Sabres have one win (3-2 over Dallas), three losses (3-2 to the Islanders, 2-1 to the Senators, 2-1 to the Flyers) and one shootout loss (2-1 to the Devils).
That might be a sign of improvement, of younger players learning what it takes to compete in the NHL, but the losses are still frustrating, disappointing and have the danger of sucking the joy out of the game.
Mitchell is very aware of that potential and finds new ways to focus his game.
“We have talked about it quite a bit, trying to find your purpose at the rink that day or trying to find motivation for this game or whatever game,” Mitchell said. “I think it just comes down to character and playing for one another. Even though we’re not going to make the playoffs, I still think it’s important for whoever you’re sitting next to or whoever you face in the locker room that you want to play hard for them and you want to play hard for yourself.
“Guys at the end of the day still have careers they’re playing for, and young guys are trying to develop and get better. Guys in my situation, you never know who’s watching and you need to try and bring your best every night.”