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Mitchell On His Way Back

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
EL SEGUNDO -- Willie Mitchell’s return is now a matter of days, not weeks.

Mitchell, out of the lineup since Nov. 6 with a broken wrist, participated in his first full-team practice on Wednesday. On Thursday, he is scheduled to meet with a team doctor and, likely, will receive final clearance to return to game action.

After a couple more days, Mitchell should be ready to play, perhaps as early as Monday’s road game against the Detroit Red Wings.

``He's not (medically) cleared,’’ coach Terry Murray said. ``He's going to see our doctor on Thursday, for maybe the final appointment, just to have that conversation. But he feels good. It's kind of on your own now. Once you get through some many weeks of doing squats and lunges and workouts off-ice, then you get more comfortable.

``He started handling the puck a little yesterday, and he wanted to be a part of it. Right after practice yesterday, he said he would like to join and participate more, so it's good to see that he's close.’’

Mitchell’s return will be big for the Kings. With him, the already-solid penalty-kill unit figures to be even better, and Mitchell allows the Kings to give big minutes to all four of their top defensemen: Mitchell, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Rob Scuderi.

Mitchell had been skating, in recent days, with a soft cast that covered his wrist and part of his hand. On Wednesday, he skated with a much smaller, and less restrictive, pad, one that he will play with upon his return to game action.

Murray has said he is not planning on having Mitchell play Saturday against Minnesota.

``I think very close after that,’’ Murray said. ``We'll get through this weekend, and a couple more practices and I think he's going to be ready to go.’’


Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has also been out since Nov. 6 with a broken finger, remains on track to return tomorrow night when the Kings host Calgary at STAPLES Center.

Less certain, though, is the status of defenseman Alec Martinez, who missed Wednesday’s practice because of flu symptoms. Murray said Martinez would be evaluated again in the morning.

If Martinez is unable to play, it’s likely that Davis Drewiske would return to the lineup.

As things stand now, the Kings will go with a fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Brad Richardson and Kevin Westgarth against the Flames, with Jonathan Quick in goal.


Doughty celebrated his 21st birthday Wednesday and said he had plans for a quiet night, perhaps with dinner and taking in the Lakers-Clippers game at STAPLES Center.

Doughty has already played 182 NHL games, which made Murray shake his head in wonder. Murray, who appeared in 302 NHL games, didn’t make his debut until age 22, during the 1972-73 season with the California Golden Seals.

He's 21, in his third year. It's incredible. Coming in as an 18-year-old, I can't comprehend that, knowing where I was as an 18-year-old. It's amazing how these young guys grow so fast and are so talented and so ready, so prepared to play in the National Hockey League. He's got a great career ahead of him.


The Kings haven’t played since Saturday, and a significant portion of practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were spent on special teams.

The Kings entered Wednesday’s game ranked 25th in the league in power-play efficiency, but when Murray approached Johnson -- one of the Kings’ power-play ``quarterbacks’’ -- for a quick on-ice chat in practice Wednesday, the coach’s message was more about affirmation.

``It was about the power play,’’ Murray said. ``I think he's playing very well there. I like what he's doing with moving his feet, when he gets the puck on his stick, to change the angle of attack, to just change the angle for the PK in that lane, to now be a shooter, with shot mentality, but also you're still a passer. Sometimes you get back there and you're standing still, making plays.
Then you're only a playmaker.

``But that other option, of being a shooter, with his great shot, I just wanted to reinforce it. I love the way he's moving his feet and opining up some ice for himself.’’

Johnson leads the Kings with eight power-play assists this season and has one of the Kings’ 14 power-play goals.
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