Any doubts about where Blackhawks prospect Ian Mitchell would start his NHL career were dashed last Thursday when the defenseman officially finalized his entry-level contract with the team that selected in the second round (57th overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft.
Mitchell remains ineligible for the current postseason but will be part of what’s shaping up to be a crowded Blackhawks blue line whenever the 2020-21 NHL season arrives.
Comments from Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton and general manager Stan Bowman suggest the right-handed defenseman is expected to assert himself into the lineup when he gets the opportunity.
Here are Colliton’s thoughts from Saturday:
“Very excited about him. Obviously, [he’s] a great skater. [He] had a great college career [at the University of Denver] and we expect him to challenge for a spot when we get to training camp next season.”
Bowman offered these thoughts on Mitchell in January:
“I was very impressed … He dominated the games I saw at Denver this year. He’s such a good skater, very involved in the play. He does a little bit of everything for [Denver] as their captain. I think it bodes well how he’s going to transition to the NHL. I think his game lines up exactly how we want to play. He’s a fun player to watch.”
Where will Mitchell fit into the lineup?
The Blackhawks have 11 other defensemen under contract for next season:
Left-handed: Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson, Calvin de Haan, Dennis Gilbert, Duncan Keith, Olli Maatta, Nick Seeler
Right-handed: Adam Boqvist, Wyatt Kalynuk, Connor Murphy, Brent Seabrook
Slater Koekkoek, a lefty, remains a possible addition to this list, as he’s a restricted free agent in the offseason.
Of the above names, the only roster locks would appear to be Boqvist, Keith and Murphy. De Haan and Seabrook bring injury concerns but also have a high probability of being back next season. Maatta may be trade bait as the Hawks look to free up salary cap space, while the remaining names (Beaudin, Carlsson, Gilbert, Kalynuk, Seeler) will need to prove worthy of NHL ice time instead of AHL minutes.
Mitchell has always been billed as a smooth skater, a defenseman who possess enough offensive instincts to flourish in all three zones. During his final college season, he led all Denver defensemen in goals (10), assists (22) and points (32) in 36 games.
Possessing a right-handed shot, it’s unlikely the Blackhawks would hurl their top all-around defensive prospect into the deep end of the pool that is playing off-side NHL defense. Because of that, Mitchell’s skill set would mesh well paired with a left-handed, defensively minded player like de Haan. Keith could be another option, as the left-handed Keith would be a veteran presence that could provide Mitchell with a myriad of tips and tricks on flourishing at the NHL level.
Should both players prove they belong, a Beaudin-Mitchell pairing would keep each player on their proper side of the ice while assembling a duo with similar all-around games that could play at a pace few young D pairings in the NHL could match.
Mitchell’s presence on the Blackhawks roster for the 2020-21 season remains on the high side of probabilities. But where he’ll fit in and who he’ll partner with remain as much of a mystery as what that season is going to look like.