– There’s still a market for energetic role players that cause on-ice chaos for the opposition.
Although the years of cheering for popular enforcers like the Bruise Brothers – Bob Probert and Joe Kocur – are distant memories for Red Wings’ fans, there’s still a place for a guy like Mitchell Callahan
, the team’s sixth-round draft pick in 2009.
“He’s something we don’t have,” Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “We’re not a tough, robust team, and he brings in that agitator. He’s in your face, he’s going to fight anybody, one of those fan favorite type of players.”
Callahan, 18, embodies that role, resembling Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke and Philadelphia’s Dan Carcillo, from his attitude to his missing-teeth appearance. Callahan had two teeth knocked out by a puck in a pickup game last summer, and this week he returned home from the Wings’ annual development camp with a bloody gash across his nose. The prospects camp ended Tuesday.
Callahan sustained the cut during a drill, when a deflected puck off goalie Thomas McCollum
’s shoulder struck him. However, Callahan, who refuses to wear a visor, because it impairs his vision, viewed his injury as mere collateral damage.
“It ended up going in the back of the net, so I wasn’t too mad about it,” said the California native, who plays last season for the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets.
When the Wings drafted him, he had just finished the 2008-09 season with 188 penalty minutes in 70 games (good for third overall in the league) while helping the Rockets to the Memorial Cup.
Last season, his penalty minutes dropped slightly, but his offensive production increased, posting 20 goals and 47 points, which was a 20-point increase from the previous year.
“He’s got good enough skill that he can play anywhere,” Nill said. “But if something happens, you know they’re there to back you up and they’re going to be in the other team’s face all the time.”
While Callahan admits it’s nice to score goals, his team-first attitude is honorable.
“Just crashing the net hard, playing physical, and you know, stick-up for teammates in the odd fight,” Callahan said when describing his style of play. “I like to do that, that’s what I want to do. I’m not the guy that’s known to score the goals, I want to be the guy that’s known to be the hardest worker on the ice, and that’s what I take pride after ... it’s great to help the team out in any way you can.”
Callahan’s plan is to return to Kelowna for the upcoming season, but Nill sees him eventually bringing his grittiness to Detroit to balance out the Wings, who have built their squad around players like four-time Lady Byng winner Pavel Datsyuk
“Every team has a weakness in the NHL,” Nill said. “You’re either really skilled, but you’re not too tough, or you’ve got a great defense, but your goaltender is so-so. So every team has a weakness under this cap system, and Mitch Callahan kind of addresses one of those weaknesses.”
Callahan hopes to eventually get that chance, and if he does, he plans on bring to do so with an edge.