What are the Chicago Blackhawks getting in Ian Mitchell?

  

A lot has changed in the world this past week, including several professional and amateur sports teams coming to a screeching halt.  As stadiums close and universities around the country send their students home for the remainder of the semester, one has to wonder what could’ve been for a lot of the student athletes.  One Blackhawks prospect in particular had his heart set on chasing a NCAA national championship but that dream, like most things these days, has been put on hold.

Ian Mitchell could have signed a professional contract last season with the Hawks, but he made the decision to play his junior year at the University of Denver, noting that he wanted to dominate at the collegiate level; and that he did.  The Calahoo, Alberta native came into the Pioneers program as a freshman with high expectations.  Mitchell was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 NHL draft by Chicago and was committed to Denver, a team that had just won a national championship.  Mitchell was slated to take over for senior Will Butcher who had just won the Hobey Baker Award for the NCAA’s top men’s hockey player.

That year, the Pioneers were surprised to have a couple of their top players stick around for an extra year and try for another national title.  Now Sharks forward Dylan Gambrell, Ducks forward Troy Terry, and Panthers forward Henrik Borgstrom were a trio that made the Pioneers one of the most potent offenses in college hockey, and Mitchell had the keys to the powerplay.  Just like any freshman would do, Mitchell deferred to many of the upperclassmen but that didn’t mean he didn’t have the skills to be out there with them.  Mitchell often walked the blue line and created open lanes for his forwards to work their magic, knowing that one day it would be his turn to work his.  In his freshman year, Mitchell registered two goals and 28 assists, landing him a spot on the NCHC’s All-Rookie team.  The Pioneers ultimately fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Frozen Four regionals.

In Mitchell’s sophomore season, many thought Denver would take a step back with many of their top players departing for the pros, but a fresh crop of recruits helped the Pioneers get to their 17th Frozen Four appearance in school history.  The 2018-19 Denver team had one of the best defenses in the league and received great goaltending from freshman Filip Larsson.  They got significant contributions from Emilio Pettersen and Cole Guttman, two freshman who played the entire season together on the first line with senior Jarid Lukosevicious.  And to top it off, Denver had just lost head coach Jim Montgomery to the NHL and were led by rookie head coach David Carle.  Mitchell had another solid season with six goals and 21 assists.  The Pioneers fell just short of getting to the national championship game, losing in overtime to Cale Makar’s UMass Minutemen in Buffalo.

In that same year, Mitchell represented Team Canada in the World Junior Championships as an alternate captain.  He played alongside several NHL prospects selected in the first round such as Edmonton’s Evan Bouchard, New York’s Noah Dobson, and New Jersey’s Ty Smith.  Unfortunately, Canada lost to Finland in overtime in the quarterfinals.

Entering his junior year at Denver, Mitchell was voted team captain and was on a mission to be Denver’s go-to guy.  In his first seven games, Mitchell had three goals and seven assists.  He went on to have seven multi-point games and score a career-high 32 points.  Mitchell also helped Team Canada win gold at the 2019 Spengler Cup.  The Pioneers had their ups and downs in the 2019-20 season, but it seemed like they were turning a corner.  Winners of four of their last six games, Denver concluded the season with a sweep of rivals Colorado College and were set to host Omaha in the first round of the NCHC playoffs.  It’s unfortunate that the NCAA tournament was canceled due to public health concerns, but there’s no doubt that Mitchell and his Pioneers would have been center stage in another chase for college hockey stardom.

So this leads us to the original question of the article of what are the Chicago Blackhawks getting in Ian Mitchell.  Now that you know the background story, here’s my take.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ian’s father and younger brother at a couple Pioneers games and they are definitely a hockey family.  Hockey is in his blood, as his uncle also played professional hockey.  Ian’s father Bill said to me that he spent countless hours with Ian teaching him the art of power skating, giving him the ability to jump into plays and also to keep up with some of the fastest forwards in his age group.  I know that there were significant changes to Ian’s game between his sophomore and junior seasons.

Knowing that professional hockey was on the horizon for him, Mitchell started training and changing his diet to be in the best hockey shape possible.  Not only did he take good care of his body, he took care of the people around him.  He is very well liked by his teammates and coaches, and is a natural-born leader.  Ian would always make time to say hello and shake my hand following post-game press scrums and was always a good quote.  The Blackhawks are getting a very high-character individual which is probably why they are so excited.  This is a player who is a big communicator on the ice and is highly competitive.

As for on-ice qualities, there is a lot to look forward to.  There has been a lot of growth in Mitchell’s game since his first Blackhawks prospect camp.  He’s bigger, stronger, faster, and comes with three years experience in one of college hockey’s toughest conferences in the NCHC.  Going against Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, and St. Cloud is no small feat, yet Mitchell and the Pioneers found success annually.

On the offensive side, Mitchell likes to compare his game to Tyson Barrie of the Maple Leafs.  He doesn’t have game-breaking speed, but he can get up the ice into the rush like Barrie and be just as dangerous as a forward.  His ability to get pucks through traffic using fakes and dekes has created a lot of chances for his forwards.  Mitchell also has an underrated slapshot.  A lot of the time, he will take a hard wrist shot if he has time from the top of the circle, but he can also rip it from the point and the puck gets to the net in a hurry.  I would say that Mitchell is the definition of a powerplay quarterback.  He is a triple-threat player from the point where he can shoot, pass, or skate at any time.  His scoring ability is just as good as anybody in college hockey, but he’s a natural playmaker.  Mitchell’s at his best when he’s setting up his teammates for layup goals after he does all the heavy lifting.

On the defensive side, it’s his hockey IQ that will wow you.  Mitchell plays with an active stick and can escape high-danger situations surprisingly without getting hit too often.  He can spin out of big checks and is phenomenal at breaking the puck out of the zone.  He can beat you with the stretch pass or he can skate it through the zone himself.  I will say that he has one of the best first passes out of the zone that I’ve seen the last few years in the conference.  Mitchell isn’t the overly aggressive type in front of the net, but he also won’t get pushed around.  I’ve seen him get into it after the whistle a few times, but he’s never put his team in a bad spot because of it.

Overall, the Blackhawks are getting a defenseman who can give fans some peace of mind, much like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson have done in years past.  Those three got the Blackhawks through multiple Stanley Cup Playoffs playing over 25 minutes a night, being trusted in every situation.  I’m not saying Mitchell is ready for that, but with the right development, he can rise to a top-four blueliner that Chicago can lean on in the future.  The Hawks have drafted a handful of top defensive prospects the last few years hoping to solidify their defensive core.  Those prospects have come and gone like a game of musical chairs, and it’s no surprise Mitchell is one of the few guys left with a seat at the table.

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