Of the five players who skated in the top two defensive pairings for the three Chicago Blackhawks teams that won Stanley Cups, only one — Brent Seabrook — was a first-round pick.
Duncan Keith was a 2002 second-round pick. Niklas Hjalmarsson was a 2005 fourth-rounder. Brian Campbell was a 1997 sixth-rounder. Johnny Oduya was a 2001 seventh-rounder.
So don’t sleep on 2017 second-round pick Ian Mitchell.
There’s been significant buzz about several Blackhawks defensive prospects lately. Adam Boqvist was Chicago’s first top-10 selection last month since Patrick Kane in 2007, and the young Swedish defenseman displayed that pedigree at last week’s prospect camp. Similar attention was paid to Nicolas Beaudin, the Blackhawks’ other first-round pick in June. And 2017 first-round pick Henry Jokiharju may be on his way to the NHL in a few months.
Mitchell is not; he’s heading back to the University of Denver this fall for his sophomore season. But after a stellar freshman campaign with the Pioneers, there’s reason to consider him alongside the other blue-liners in the Chicago system.
Playing for a perennial college hockey powerhouse in Denver, Mitchell earned top-pairing minutes, helping fill a massive hole in the lineup left by Will Butcher, who just wrapped up his rookie season with the New Jersey Devils. Mitchell’s game is similar to Butcher’s, with each player able to make plays on offense. But Mitchell’s ceiling appears to be significantly higher than the third pairing, power play specialist role that Butcher handled last season in New Jersey.
Butcher was a Hobey Baker Award winner as the NCAA’s best player with Denver in 2016-17, with seven goals and 37 assists in 43 games as the Pioneers won a national title. That was Butcher’s senior season, though. Mitchell, as a freshman, took over the top pairing minutes along with fellow prospect Blake Hillman, who made his NHL debut last season, and racked up 30 points in 41 games.
In his first close look in Chicago since that stellar season, Mitchell caught some media attention at prospect camp last week:
It’s summer hockey, but quick Blackhawks development camp thoughts: Henri Jokiharju looked physically stronger in the ice. High end skater. Ian Mitchell is an underrated talent who looks better every time I watch him. Boqvist’s skill level always evident. Great hands.— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) July 20, 2018
Ian Mitchell roofs a heck of a shot over Peyton Jones during a 3-on-3 scrimmage. That was a big-league wrister.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) July 18, 2018
And there’s been a plethora of articles touting Mitchell’s abilities. SB Nation’s college hockey website had this to say about Mitchell last December:
Mitchell is a very good college hockey player, and with another year or two of development, has the ability to be an elite player.
In March, Mitchell was ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the Blackhawks’ organization by The Athletic, which offered this thorough breakdown of him earlier this year. And this story from The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark after prospect camp provided more insight into Mitchell’s mind.
The next time Mitchell will be on the ice is this weekend, when he’ll will represent Canada at this summer’s World Junior Summer Showcase, which begins Saturday.
There’s enough smoke emanating around Mitchell to suggest there’s a surefire defensive prospect forming underneath. Yes, it was college hockey and he’s still only 19 years old — there’s still at least another year or two of development (and necessary improvement) between him and the NHL level. But his progression needs to be watched just as enthusiastically as that of Boqvist, Beaudin and Jokiharju in the Blackhawks system.