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FEATURE: Blackhawks blue line of future on display at Development Camp

Boqvist, Beaudin and Mitchell eager, but patient, in path to NHL

by Chris Kuc /

The Blackhawks top three defenseman prospects, Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell, each possess a unique set of skills that have them on track to - if all goes according to plan - collectively form the backbone of the franchise's blue line at some point in the future.

Perhaps more significantly, they share the most important attribute required as they continue their paths to the NHL: Patience.

While Boqvist, Beaudin and Mitchell hold the same dream as each of the prospects attending the 2019 Blackhawks Development Camp this week in wanting to play in the NHL as soon as possible, they realize rushing the process will do more harm than good.

"Playing in the NHL is not a boy's game, it's a man's game," said the 20-year-old Mitchell, the Blackhawks' second-round selection (57th overall) in the 2017 NHL Draft. "You have to be ready not only to play but also mentally to handle the stress of an 82-game season. So it's maybe not about the right now, it's about how good can you be in four or five years?"

To that end, Mitchell has informed the Blackhawks that he will honor his commitment to return to the University of Denver for his junior season, where he's already been named captain for the Pioneers. Meanwhile, Boqvist and Beaudin - first-round picks (Nos. 8 and 27 overall, respectively) in the '18 draft - are also prepared to hone their skills at lower levels if they don't manage to gobsmack the Blackhawks brass during training camp and win a roster spot.

"When I'm going to come back here in September I want to make the Blackhawks, that's for sure," Beaudin said. "But if I have to go to (AHL) Rockford for one year, two years or three years, I'm going to take the time I need. When the Blackhawks organization thinks that I'm ready then I'll jump."

Video: Adam Boqvist eyes turning pro

Where did Beaudin learn that type of patience at the tender age of 19?

"I think I'm just a patient guy," he said. "In life, I don't get too excited about things."

That includes achieving the life-long dream of playing in the NHL.

"I don't want to rush things," Beaudin said. "I don't want to say, 'Yeah, next year I'm going to the NHL.' It's my goal, that's for sure, but if I have to play in the AHL I have no problem with that."

Boqvist, who came on strong in the second half of last season to post 20 goals and 40 assists in 54 games with London of the OHL, shares the same mindset.

"You can't just push into it if you're not ready for it," Boqvist, 19, said. "You have to be ready to play at both ends. If you're going to play against Connor McDavid and guys like that you have improve your play. I'm just going to try to keep improving everything every day. Take everything in and learn. I'm still young so I have much to learn."

As a team that yielded a Western Conference-worst 291 goals during the 2018-19 season, the Blackhawks will look far and wide for help in keeping pucks out of their own net next season but rushing their young prospects is not an option.

"Something we stress is long-term success over short term," Blackhawks Director of Player Development Mark Eaton said. "Playing defense in the NHL isn't something that happens overnight. It's a process to grow into, as far as learning the game and as far as maturing physically and mentally for the individual.

"Those three and I think us as an organization realize the importance of allowing the process to play itself out and to remain patient and not put them in difficult situations," he continued. "Ask any that age and they'll say they want to get there as soon as possible but I think their belief system is that they will be there eventually and they want to do it the right way."

One thing going for Boqvist, Beaudin and Mitchell during their quests to reach the NHL is that they have each other to lean on if needed. Beaudin and Mitchell became close friends while attending Hockey Canada's 2018 World Junior selection camp and Boqvist has bonded with them as the Falun, Sweden, native has improved his English.

"We're always trying to push each other to make each other better because we realize that we're kind of the next generation of Blackhawks defensemen," Mitchell said. "We can definitely relate and talk about if we're having troubles or about stuff that is going on. We're kind of living in the same boat so it's definitely cool to have guys who are going through it at the same time and kind of on the same path to maybe step into the league at maybe a similar time too."

The three also share the fact that they don't have prototypical body types for NHL defensemen as Boqvist and Mitchell each stand 5-feet-11 inches and Beaudin is 5-foot-10.

"They are considered under-sized guys by NHL defensemen standards so for each of them it's learning to use the assets and skill sets that they have in a defensive way," Eaton said. "When you're under-sized you have to be able to use your quickness, your stick, your mind to put yourself in situations to succeed defensively and be able to play against bigger, stronger guys."

Becoming bigger and stronger has been the mantra of each of the players attending development camp, but Eaton and former Blackhawks defenseman and current Player Development Coach Brian Campbell have been particularly active in instructing Boqvist, Beaudin and Mitchell in the areas in which they most need to improve. The work has been centered on becoming more adept defensively, but that is especially the case for the offensive-minded Boqvist and Beaudin.

"I've learned a lot about my positioning in my D-zone," said Beaudin, who had seven goals and 49 assists in 53 games with Drummondville of the QMJHL last season. "It's not going backward and waiting for guys coming at me but going at guys and taking an angle and not letting them make some plays. I'm good at skating with the puck but for me it was really be good defensively and not letting the other players time with the puck."

Said Boqvist: "I can play both ends now better than I did last year. I need to be stronger. I have a couple of months to show them that I'm getting stronger."

Mitchell's plan is to be more productive offensively after posting six goals and 21 assists in 39 games at Denver.

"For me, it's working on my skating and my footwork with my stick," Mitchell said. "I feel like I'm a good skater but you can always improve and to get to that next level I definitely need to take steps in all areas of my game. Next year at Denver I'm definitely going to work on my offensive side and be more dynamic and try to be a difference-maker every time I step on the ice. I want to be a dominant player in college before I make that step to the NHL."

When that next step will come is still to be determined, but Eaton believes Boqvist, Beaudin and Mitchell have the potential to be NHL defensemen "for many years to come.

"You let their careers progress at the pace that helps them develop the best," Eaton said. "Those decisions usually play out on their own based on merit and play. But, for sure, those three have NHL potential and potential to have long careers in the NHL.

"I'm excited to help these guys any way I can to help them continue to develop into future NHL defensemen and help them reach their goals and dreams," Eaton continued. "In so doing that's going to help the Blackhawks."

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