Los Angeles Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell joined the guys on NHL Home Ice radio earlier this afternoon. Although they asked a little about the win last night and his injury woes in 2010, the bulk of the interview was spent talking up rookie Kyle Clifford. Here’s a quick recap…
* How important was it to win again at Staples Center after the recent eight game home stand where the team went 2-6? I think we could all feel it coming. Over the few games before I think we were starting to play good hockey again, just not getting the results. So, it’s nice to get rewarded. For the mental aspect, it was big.
* (on Clifford) He reminds me of Rick Rypien when he was breaking in with the Vancouver Canucks. Nobody really knew he was and I’d see him beat up guys left and right. Finally, word started to get out. Cliffy is much the same way, but actually even younger. He’s a good hockey player too. He’s done the physical stuff and that’s probably a big reason why he stayed up in the NHL at such a young age. His game is going to continue to evolve though. He’s a really good player and he’ll be a good player for us for a long time.
* (on the Clifford-Thornton fight last night) Before the Boston game we knew they were a blue collar type team with an in-your-face style. We also knew we weren’t going to have Kevin Westgarth in the line-up. So, you look around and say ‘Do we need a little more sandpaper?’ Clifford has answered the bell so well this year. Thornton has done it for an extended period of time and he’s actually a really smart player too. So, to see him (Clifford) get in a tussle with a guy who’s done it that long and is widely known as one of the smarter players, and to do so well, it’s kinda scary to think what he might be capable of years down the road.
* What kind of upside do you see for Clifford? Some guys have done it different ways. If you look at some of the good power forwards, they had that physical game early on in their career and that allowed them to bide their time and hone their skills and get their scoring touch. He has a really good snapshot. The more he plays and gets the trust of the coaches, because he is a young player, the more he buys himself time to get his timing down and all those small steps needed to get to the next level. He’s on our third/fourth line right now. I definitely see him as a second line guy down the road, maybe following in the footsteps of somebody like Milan Lucic – a guy who can go to the net hard, has a good shot and isn’t afraid to pay the price to get those ugly goals.
* You were injured quite a bit last year. How happy are you to be back playing? I was probably one of the happiest people in North America to ring in 2011. Starting January 16th of last year it was a tough time for me, first with my concussion and then other injuries (talks about his broken wrist, a knee injury vs. St. Louis, etc.). My head injury was a horrible thing to go through, but it may have been one of the best things for me in the long run. It taught me not to panic. Something in my knee is just superficial compared to what I went through with my head and my life. When it’s a head you don’t know if you’re going to get better. So, it’s allowed me to put things in perspective.