Blackhawks defenseman prospect Ian Mitchell has decided to return to the University of Denver for his junior season, the school announced Wednesday. The right-handed defenseman’s decision pushes back his ability to sign an entry-level contract with Chicago until the spring of 2020.
Mitchell told Scott Powers of The Athletic his plan is to sign with the Blackhawks next spring and he won’t pursue becoming an unrestricted free agent. The 2017 second-round draft pick went as far as to say he wants “to play for them for a long time.”
Mitchell had six goals and 21 assists in 39 games this past season for the Pioneers. The 5-foot-11, 174-pound blue liner’s sophomore campaign ended in a 4-3 overtime loss to UMass in the Frozen Four on April 11 in Buffalo. The Blackhawks likely were expecting to sign him in hopes he could compete for a NHL roster spot in training camp.
“In the past few days since our season ended, I have had the chance to reflect on the year and the season our team had,” Mitchell said in a statement from DU. “It became clear to me during that time that I did not feel ready mentally or physically to leave Denver. I believe this is the best place for me to become a better hockey player and as a team we have an opportunity to do something very special next year. I would like to thank the Chicago Blackhawks organization for being so supportive and respectful of my decision to remain in school and continue my development.
“I am looking forward to next season.”
Mitchell was also an assistant captain for the Canadian men’s national junior team at this year’s World Junior Championship, where he had a goal and three points in five outings.
Mitchell is one of the Blackhawks’ four horsemen on the blue line to be selected in the opening two rounds in the past two years. The Blackhawks drafted Henri Jokiharju and Mitchell in the first and second rounds, respectively, in 2017 then took Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin last year. Beaudin, Boqvist and Jokiharju have all signed with Chicago.
Jokiharju is the lone player from Chicago’s nine-player 2017 draft class to have signed an NHL deal. The Blackhawks did sign forward MacKenzie Entwistle, who was drafted 69th overall in the third round in 2017 by Arizona before he was traded to Chicago last July, to a three-year contract in October. Entwistle has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 11 playoff games with the Guelph Storm, who start the Western Conference Final against the Saginaw Spirit on Thursday.