Leading up to the Blackhawks’ 2018 development camp, The Rink will profile the Hawks’ top 10 unsigned prospects.
The Rink’s top-ranked Blackhawks unsigned prospect is defenseman Ian Mitchell of the University of Denver.
2017–18 Team: Denver (NCAA)
Date of Birth: January 18, 1999
Place of Birth: Calahoo, AB
Weight: 174 lbs
Acquired: 2017 NHL Entry Draft, 2nd round, 57th overall
Although not a highly sought-after player heading into the 2017 draft, the Blackhawks grabbed Mitchell with the 57th pick, which many felt was a bit of a reach given most felt he would be a third round pick. However, Mitchell has done nothing but prove the Hawks right since being drafted. After an impressive freshman year at Denver, Mitchell appears to be shaping into a steal.
Mitchell plays a polished two-way game. He has shown good offensive ability and sound defensive coverage in Denver, an impressive feat for a freshman playing big minutes for one of the best programs in the nation. His growth has even sparked the interest of Hockey Canada, who recently invited Mitchell to participate in their World Junior Summer Showcase, a tournament and mini training camp of sorts for the 2019 World Junior Championships. Mitchell is expected to compete for a spot on Canada’s blue line for the World Juniors, alongside fellow Blackhawks prospect Nicolas Beaudin.
Mitchell’s skating ability is one of his best assets. He has outstanding speed and acceleration, allowing him to cover a ton of ice, seemingly with ease. Mitchell’s speed allows him to be a threat on the rush, especially given he enjoys leading the rush. Mitchell also has good agility, allowing him to avoid pressure from the opposition.
Mitchell possesses high-end vision and play making ability, allowing him to be a great power play quarterback. Mitchell thrived in that role at Denver this season, helping the Pioneers to have a highly effective power play. Mitchell is able to spot soft spots in defensive coverage and exploit them with quick, accurate passes to his teammates. Mitchell is also able to create space for his teammates by using his skating ability to draw defenders to him and then distribute the puck.
While not overly powerful, Mitchell has an effective shot because of his release, accuracy and ability to get it through traffic and on net. He scored only two goals last season, but registered 28 assists, many of which came on deflection goals or rebound goals by his teammates. Mitchell’s shot will improve with added strength, a focus of his development while at Denver.
Defensively, Mitchell is surprisingly effective despite his lack of size. He uses his high-end skating ability to cover the ice well and close gaps quickly. Mitchell is not afraid to get physical to clear the front of the net, though again, he will need to add more strength to play that style at the NHL level. Mitchell is a smart defender who takes advantage of his awareness to shut down the opposition.
Overall, Mitchell has all the tools needed to be an effective two-way defenseman at the game’s highest level. He will need to continue improving in his own end, which will mostly come from bulking up, but should be able to do so in the near future. Arguably the best thing about Mitchell is he really does not have any deficiencies other than his size, and even that is not a red flag. Mitchell is among Chicago’s brightest prospects and should be a long-term contributor to the future success of the franchise.
Implications for the Blackhawks
Mitchell is one of the Hawks’ best high-end right-handed defensive prospects. With Mitchell, Henri Jokiharju and Adam Boqvist, the right side of the Blackhawks’ defense should be set for a long time once they make the jump to the NHL. While Mitchell is projected to be a top-four defenseman, he could play on the third pairing in Chicago long-term, as Boqvist would likely occupy the right side on the top pair and Jokiharju would likely slot in on the second pairing. While Mitchell may not be able to develop into a high-end NHL defenseman as a result of the limited role, having three young, high-end, right-handed defensemen will be an excellent “problem” for the Blackhawks moving forward. Mitchell models his game after Duncan Keith, so if Mitchell can come anywhere near what Keith has been for the Blackhawks, he will be a home run for Chicago.
Mitchell will return to Denver for this season, but if the Blackhawks like his development enough throughout the year, Mitchell could earn a contract and even finish the season in Chicago, similar to Blake Hillman, Mitchell’s defensive partner in Denver last season. While it is theoretically possible Mitchell could return to Denver for his junior year in 2019–20, this is not likely. Expect Mitchell to join the Blackhawks either late in 2018–19 or in the 2019–20 season.
Mitchell has the ability to be a good two-way defenseman on the second pairing at the NHL level, especially once he adds more muscle. He has nice upside and should be a solid, well-rounded defenseman capable of having a long and successful career.
What others are saying
“Mitchell is very good at starting the transition game. He can skate the puck out of dangerous areas and avoid the forecheck, before making a crisp pass to a teammate. He is especially effective at going for the long home-run pass to a streaking forward behind the defence. Mitchell is also effective at leading the rush himself. He can quarterback the play from the blue line, with the poise to control the puck, and the vision to make strong passes. He can also walk the line to open up shooting and passing lanes.”
— Ben Kerr/Last Word on Sports
“Just a solid all-round poised defenseman in the making…is a mobile skater who makes strong decisions and can get up ice quickly when joining or leading the rush…makes great reads and heads up plays…shows impressive vision skating with his head up…makes accurate passes to his forwards at all ranges and velocity levels…owns a decent point shot that gets to its target regularly…plays physical despite his lack of size…can play a shutdown role effectively despite his lack of ideal size and strength…uses his smarts and instinctive play to defend…uses his body position well to box out players…cuts off angles to the net and gets his frame or stick into lanes to close them off…plays a mature defensive game and has the upside of a top four two-way guy.”
— Aaron Vickers/Future Considerations