On Sunday morning, the Capitals announced the recalls of a pair of forwards from AHL Hershey: Chandler Stephenson and Garrett Mitchell. Stephenson has been up and down a few times over the last two seasons; the third-rounder (77th overall) from the 2012 NHL Draft has appeared in a dozen games with the Capitals over the last two seasons.
Mitchell, on the other hand, is the big story here.
Drafted in the sixth round (175th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Mitchell faced long odds to reach the NHL from the start. Standing less than six feet tall, Mitchell never wowed scouts with tons of skill and ability. He never managed more than 18 goals or 52 points in any of his four full seasons of junior hockey with the WHL's Regina Pats.
But from the day they drafted him, the Caps knew Mitchell had that little something extra, that intangible of "heart" that elevates him above the ordinary. Washington scouts believed Mitchell would eventually wear a letter for his junior team, and he did, serving as Regina's team captain in 2010-11.
"You look at people that are quality people in an organization," says Trotz of Mitchell. "He's been a draft choice, he's been eight years I believe in Hershey. He's been a captain down there, a leader and the emotional stability that an organization needs in their farm system with their kids.
Video: Trotz talks before the final game
"I'm really happy for him. These are great stories. He's got his family here; he's got his parents here. For us, I think we have a lot of respect for those type of people and players and what he has done for our organization. He has played very well all year and been very consistent. And he has the opportunity today and play in the National Hockey League. It's a dream that he has had for a long time."
When the Caps signed Mitchell to an entry level contract on March 19, 2011, they did so with the knowledge that he'd more than likely be a serviceable AHL player who'd be hard pressed to make it to the NHL as a full-timer. History has proven that to be true; Mitchell has played in 352 regular season and 40 playoff games with Hershey, topping out at 15 goals and 30 points in his second full season with the Bears in 2012-13.
Washington drafted Marcus Johansson in the first round of that same 2009 draft; Johansson skated in his 500th career game on Saturday in Boston, a day before Mitchell will skate in his first game in the league. He learned of the recall on Saturday, just after the Bears' 2-1 win over the Marlies in Toronto.
Video: Mitchell on getting called up for his first NHL game
"We just finished playing Toronto and [Bears head coach] Troy [Mann] came in and let everybody know the schedule," says Mitchell. "We had a rookie party there [Saturday] night. So he came in and let everybody know the schedule for stuff. He said that Chandler was going to get called up, and he said that I'd been waiting six years to get the call. They've got a video of it; it's pretty cool."
Mitchell has also proven the Caps right in another regard. He's been a great leader throughout the course of his pro career, one whose work ethic, grit and determination serves as an example and an inspiration to the rest of the guys in the room. He has worn the "C" as Hershey's captain in each of the last two seasons, helping to lead the Bears to the Calder Cup final last spring.
Good organizations do good things for good people. Today's recall of Mitchell is a shining example of that, and according to Trotz, the idea began with Caps' general manager Brian MacLellan.
"We started talking about good organizational people, and Mac brought up Mitchell," says Trotz. "And the people in Hershey brought up Mitchy. We said if we get an opportunity [to bring him up], he's earned the right to put on the jersey because he has done a lot of things. If you're going to be a good team, it's not only the players the coaches and the trainers, but it's your farm team and it's the people in your organization. So he's done a lot for this organization. It's time that he gets paid back a little bit."
Tonight, the Caps reward Mitchell for all those years of terrific service as a loyal and hard working organizational foot soldier. He signed three different contracts to remain in the Washington organization, and the last of those pacts expires this summer. Today is Mitchell's day, the day the 25-year-old finally gets to fulfill his dream of donning a Caps sweater and skating in an NHL game. Parents Linda and Glynn will be looking on from the stands at Verizon Center, as will wife Talita, mother-in-law Cristina and daughters Lila and Lakelyn.
Video: Garrett Mitchell takes a solo lap in his first game
"It's pretty surreal," says Mitchell. "We just had our [second] daughter nine days ago, so my mom and dad are coming down to see her. They flew to Toronto [Saturday] and their flight actually got canceled, to fly to Harrisburg. It just happened that they got talking with the lady [from the airline] and they explained the situation and they just flew mom and dad straight here. Somebody is watching out for me, and it's a pretty cool experience.
"As a kid growing up, it's something you dream of. For it to become real these last couple of days, it's pretty surreal."