Second City Hockey’s 2022-23 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2022. The rankings are determined by a composite score from all four SCH writers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. All four ballots will be released after the series is completed.
Ian Mitchell moving up one spot from 2021’s Top 25 Under 25 list may be more indicative of having four of the six players that were ahead of him moving on from the Chicago Blackhawks organization. However, Mitchell there are definitely reasons why Mitchell remained in the top 10 on the 2022 version of this list, even with all of the subtractions — and additions — made within the Blackhawks pipeline.
The right-handed defensemen made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks back in the COVID-19-shortened 2021 season. Mitchell tallied seven points (3 G, 4 A) in his rookie campaign, averaged 15:02 TOI and even engaged in some extra-curricular activity with his now teammate, Max Domi. After the Hawks made a handful of big acquisitions and headed into the ‘21-22 season with playoff hopes, Mitchell ended up spending most of the season in Rockford, where he finished 35 points (11 G, 24 A) in 57 games. With the Hawks season quickly falling apart after a disastrous start, Mitchell was among a handful of prospects who saw NHL ice time. He didn’t make much noise, but did tally a single assist in eight games.
Although Mitchell showed some promise in his short NHL stints (particularly in the offensive zone), the Blackhawks would benefit greatly if the skillset he put on display while at the University of Denver can translate to the NHL.
It’s hard to judge Mitchell’s NHL production without keeping a few key points in mind. Not only is his sample size very small, but the Blackhawks were one of the worst possession teams over the last few seasons — Chicago was not the friendliest destination for a rookie defenseman to cut their teeth. Their hybrid style of defense and general display of poor puck possession in all three zones was hard enough to watch with veterans on the ice. So while his 42.8 percent shot attempt share (CF%) in 47 total NHL games is not an eye-popping stat, Mitchell did put his skills on display in more individual areas and that should be taken into consideration when elevating him, ahead of — and in spite of — the poor team performances he was a part of.
Mitchell shines in the offensive zone. He can make things happen with and without the puck on his stick. While not the fastest skater, he is moves well enough to navigate with the puck in tight spaces. He only has eight career NHL points, but each of those plays stands out on their own. He can score from different areas, find and create passing lanes to get to the open man and looks for opportunities at high danger scoring chances. There is a lot to like with Mitchell’s game, he just needs to be put into a role that gives him a chance to succeed.
With the Blackhawks having an already crowded blueline, Mitchell will have to take advantage of any opportunities he’s given, and he may get one in the first few months of this season because of the recent surgery for Jake McCabe. The good news for Mitchell is that this is a year in when several prospects should get looks at the pro level. What do the Hawks have to lose (besides games)? Given the chance, Mitchell will have to play sound, fundamental defense and put his bread and butter on display in the offensive phases of the game. It’s an important season for Mitchell overall, who’s the oldest defenseman on this list and needs to prove he should be part of the Blackhawks’ long-term plans.
There’s a lot to like about Ian Mitchell. He’s a guy who Hawks fans could really get behind if he earns a long-term roster spot with the team. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking but, with him wearing Brian Campbell’s digits, it’s possible he could be the next 51 Phantom.