EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Willie Mitchell would have been content if the Los Angeles Kings simply put his 2014 Stanley Cup championship ring in a FedEx package and mailed it to him this summer. He’s not big on ceremony.
But the Kings wanted to give it to him personally before Mitchell and his new team, the Florida Panthers, play the Kings on Tuesday at Staples Center. It will be Mitchell’s first appearance in Los Angeles since he signed with Florida in July after four years with the Kings.
"I thought it was a real kind gesture," Mitchell said on Sunday. "They called and said, 'We can send it, but we’d like to give it to you,' so that kind of speaks to the class that they deal with. I appreciate that. I really respect that.
"I guess it’s closure for me on that journey a little bit. You go everything. You go through all the grind of putting yourself out there. Everyone does, you look at the guys who won, when you win, that moment, you celebrate, you have your Cup day, the banner goes up, and you get your ring, it’s like 'Yes.' I guess it’s the last part of the journey."
The Kings plan an in-game tribute for Mitchell, but it won't be a ring ceremony, a spokesman said. Mitchell was an unsung, integral part of Cup-winning Kings teams in 2012 and 2014. He was the first person that captain Dustin Brown handed the Cup to in 2012, and thus well respected by veterans and young players.
"As a young guy coming in, having some veteran guys always helps – just with the mental aspect of the game, as well as some positional stuff on the ice," Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin said. "Some of the stuff he was good at was his penalty killing and good stick position - little tips along the way and mostly [he taught me] to enjoy your time in the NHL because it goes by fast."
The Kings could not afford to re-sign Mitchell after general manager Dean Lombardi re-signed defenseman Matt Greene to a four-year contract. Mitchell is in a far different dynamic as captain of a Panthers team that has a lot of potential that was evident in a 6-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
"I’ll be completely honest. I didn’t know how much I would enjoy it in Florida," Mitchell said. "It’s been fun. It’s an organization that’s growing. We’re making strides … it’s fun to be a part of something where you’re seeing it grow. It kind of brings me back to the same spot in 2010 when I went to L.A."
Kings coach Darryl Sutter had plenty of praise for Florida, which is 2-0-0 against California teams.
"I’m not saying it because we’re playing them. They’re a very good hockey club," Sutter said.
"You look at they’re road record [3-1-4), they’re goals against [2.33], and they’ve got [goalie Roberto] Luongo. They’re not flying under the radar. Everybody knows about them."
Here are the expected lineups …
Tomas Kopecky – Aleksander Barkov - Scottie Upshall
Nick Bjugstad – Jonathan Huberdeau – Brad Boyes
Jussi Jokinen – Vincent Trocheck – Jimmy Hayes
Tomas Fleischmann – Derek MacKenzie – Shawn Thornton
Willie Mitchell – Aaron Ekblad
Brian Campbell – Colby Robak
Dylan Olsen – Erik Gudbranson
Injured: Dmitry Kulikov (knee), Dave Bolland (groin)
Scratched: Sean Bergenheim, Brandon Pirri
Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar –Trevor Lewis
Dwight King –Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Tanner Pearson – Jarret Stoll – Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford –Mike Richards – Dustin Brown
Jake Muzzin – Drew Doughty
Robyn Regehr – Jamie McBain
Brayden McNabb – Matt Greene
Injured: Alec Martinez (finger)
Scratched: Jordan Nolan, Andy Andreoff
Status report: Martinez is expected to return later this week. There weren’t real line rushes because several Kings did not skate, including Doughty, who has played at least 29:46 in six straight games. Sutter completely mixed up his lines in practice on Monday in order to get more out of his top players. … Florida reportedly might recall center Rocco Grimaldi, a Southern California product, if Barkov is ill.
Who’s hot: Bjugstad is coming off a career-high four-point game, and Trocheck and Ekblad have four-game point streaks. Kopitar has three goals and two assists in his past four games and Muzzin has three multi-point games in the past four.