Mitchell has stars in his eyes

Newly signed de­fense­man can’t wait to meet idol keith

Chicago Sun-Times - - BLACKHAWKS BEAT - Ben Pope

Ian Mitchell isn’t phys­i­cally with the Black­hawks yet. But when he joins them be­fore the 2020-21 sea­son, he’s go­ing to need to com­pose him­self be­fore meet­ing one of the team’s core mem­bers.

‘‘Grow­ing up, I al­ways loved watch­ing Dun­can Keith,’’ Mitchell, a de­fense­man, said Wed­nes­day. ‘‘Get­ting to hope­fully meet Dun­can soon would be def­i­nitely some­thing pretty cool for me. I’m go­ing to prob­a­bly be a bit starstruck. To have the op­por­tu­nity to maybe play with him would be re­ally, re­ally cool.’’

Such com­ments are re­minders that Mitchell is, at heart, just a 21-year-old hockey lover.

But he’s also a very talented hockey player and one of the most an­tic­i­pated prospects to sign with the Hawks in years.

Thanks to him re­buff­ing gen­eral man­ager Stan Bowman’s con­tract of­fer last sum­mer and re­turn­ing for one more dom­i­nant sea­son at the Univer­sity of Den­ver, talk of Mitchell as the miss­ing piece in the Hawks’ re­build bal­looned into some­thing per­haps big­ger than Mitchell him­self. In­deed, many in the Hawks’ fan base con­vinced them­selves Mitchell never would sign with the fran­chise.

But now Mitchell has signed — for real. He un­of­fi­cially agreed to a deal in April, then of­fi­cially put pen to pa­per last week, ink­ing a three-year, entry-level con­tract that will kick in next sea­son.

He said he chose to start next sea­son and have his con­tract last un­til 2023 — un­like most other no­table rook­ies, who signed deals dur­ing the pan­demic — with his long-term fu­ture with the Hawks in mind.

‘‘[That] gave me an­other year to prove my­self to the or­ga­ni­za­tion,’’ he said. ‘‘Hope­fully, at the end of that third year, I can earn an even longer con­tract to stay in Chicago.’’

And such com­ments are re­minders that Mitchell, no matter how starstruck he gets, doesn’t lack con­fi­dence in him­self.

He went so far Wed­nes­day as to com­pare the group of Adam Bo­qvist, Ni­co­las Beaudin and him­self to the Hawks’ class of de­fense­men in the years be­fore the 2010 Stan­ley Cup break­through.

‘‘Maybe it could be not so dis­sim­i­lar to 2009 or 2008, when they were build­ing for the three Cups,’’ he said. ‘‘They had a lot of young de­fense­men in the pipe­line then, with Keith, [Brent] Seabrook, Brian Camp­bell and guys like that.

‘‘Adam and Nick and I have be­come pretty good friends from devel­op­ment camps. Get­ting to play with those guys next year will be a re­ally good time, and hope­fully we can be that ‘next wave’ that Hawks fans have seen be­fore.’’

That’s an am­bi­tious com­par­i­son — even the most op­ti­mistic would have a dif­fi­cult time liken­ing these 2020 Hawks to the 2009 ver­sion — but Mitchell isn’t wrong that he, Bo­qvist and Beaudin are a huge part of the Hawks’ plans mov­ing for­ward.

Bo­qvist is com­ing off a sur­pris­ingly re­spon­si­ble rookie reg­u­lar sea­son and has be­come a first-pair­ing main­stay along­side Keith. Beaudin has en­joyed a great sum­mer camp, with Bowman giv­ing him mul­ti­ple shout-outs Tues­day.

And Mitchell projects as a clear top-four de­fense­man. He worked to im­prove his one-timers, of­fen­sive cre­ativ­ity and vi­sion, de­fen­sive gap con­trol and stick use last win­ter at Den­ver. At this point, he’s as well­rounded as prospects come.

Mitchell em­pha­sized for seem­ingly the hun­dredth time that ‘‘it wasn’t ever on my mind that I didn’t want to sign with the Black­hawks.’’ And with that, the con­tract saga fi­nally is be­hind him.

Next up? Join­ing the Hawks this fall. ‘‘It’s def­i­nitely very ex­cit­ing, some­thing I’ve waited my whole life for,’’ he said. ‘‘At some point, I’ll get down to Chicago; I’m not sure quite when. I want to get down a lit­tle bit early, so I can meet some of the guys.’’

Es­pe­cially Keith, it seems. ✶


Hawks de­fense prospect Ian Mitchell (left) im­proved a lot in his game last win­ter at Den­ver.

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