Closing the book on Torrey Mitchell’s time with the Montreal Canadiens

The hometown boy got to live out his dream playing for the Canadiens.

On Thursday night, the Montreal Canadiens traded veteran centre Torrey Mitchell to the Los Angeles Kings for a conditional fifth-round draft pick. It’s an honest return for a forward who served the Canadiens very well on the fourth line, but it was evident this season that he had run his course with the team.

Mitchell was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres at the 2014-15 trade deadline by General Manager Marc Bergevin for a seventh-round draft pick in the 2016 entry draft and prospect Jack Nevins. It was a cheap price to pay for a player who filled a big need for the team, as the Habs struggled finding a player who could provide consistency to the fourth line.

Veteran Manny Malhotra had been tasked with pivoting the fourth line that season, and even though he continued to excel in the faceoff dot (59.4%), he contributed very little offensively (his first goal came in March, with only two assists up to that point) and struggled to keep up with the play (rel Corsi-for percentage of -15.7%).

Malhotra began to be a healthy scratch starting in December as the Canadiens tried rookie Jacob de la Rose and Gabriel Dumont in the role. By the trade deadline it was clear that Bergevin needed to strengthen his fourth line headed into the playoffs, so he hedged his bets and acquired two potential centres from the Sabres: Mitchell and Brian Flynn.

Mitchell played 14 games with Habs from the point he got acquired, winning 56.9% of his faceoffs and posted a relative Corsi-for percentage of -13.7%. Those numbers were roughly on par with Malhotra, but Mitchell gave the Canadiens a faster option on the penalty kill and more offensive punch. Although Mitchell didn’t score during the regular season, he did kick off the 2015 playoffs with a great goal for the Habs.

Mitchell earned five points in the playoffs that year, ending with a trip to the Eastern Conference Final.

In the off-season, Mitchell signed a three-year deal to stay in his hometown. The Greenfield Park native (a suburb of Longeuil on the South Shore of Montreal) relished the opportunity to move back to Motreal. In fact he had already been honoured with the addition to the Greenfield Park “Wall of Fame” in a ceremony hosted by his idol and fellow local, Garry Galley, prior to the trade.

The 2015-16 season was a career high for the centreman as he scored 11 goals — his career high — despite missing a month of action due to an injury. He scored his first game-winning goal for the Canadiens in his first game against the Sabres, in a highlight reel of what he brought to the Habs: win a faceoff, work hard to get to the front of the net, and get your stick on the puck.

The 2016-17 season brought some significant change for the Montreal Canadiens as Michel Therrien was fired and replaced with Claude Julien in mid-February. Under Julien, Mitchell saw his ice time drop from an average of 13±1.5 minutes per game to 11.5±2.0 minutes per game. He also saw his offensive zone faceoffs increase from 24% to 31%, though his goals-for percentage dropped from 42% to 40% despite the added offensive opportunity. It was clear that Julien had a hard time trusting Mitchell in the difficult assignments, handing these duties to Tomas Plekanec and Phillip Danault instead.

At the 2017 trade deadline, the Canadiens picked up veteran Steve Ott, and Mitchell found himself shifted to the wing; a first warning sign that he was not the kind of player that Julien wanted on the fourth line. By the time the playoffs came around Mitchell saw his time decrease even more, and eventually was scratched in favour of Michael McCarron for the final game of the Habs’ season.

Before the scratch, however, Mitchell scored his final goal as a Montreal Canadien.

This season Mitchell found himself fighting a losing battle against Jacob de la Rose and Byron Froese for fourth-line duties, and with the arrival of Nicolas Deslauriers, he seemed poised to be pushed out of the lineup entirely.

Mitchell only got into about half of the games the Habs played this season, putting up no points, and he finally found his time in Montreal end as Julien and Bergevin seem intent on finding a new identity for the fourth line.

Mitchell is set to return to the Western Conference where he started his career, and to his fifth NHL team. He was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fourth round of the 2004 entry draft, playing there before moving on to the Minnesota Wild and Sabres.

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