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FEATURE: Mitchell returns to college, searching for another level

Blackhawks prospect Ian Mitchell is returning to the University of Denver for his junior season as he looks to continue his development before his NHL leap

by Chris Wescott /

While it's every young hockey player's dream to make it to the National Hockey League, Ian Mitchell isn't rushing it.

The 20-year-old defenseman believes returning for his junior year at the University of Denver is the best thing for his development as he eyes long-term success in the pros.

"I guess I just didn't necessarily feel I was ready physically and mentally to make the step to pro hockey quite yet. Those were the things that led to my decision," Mitchell said.

The Blackhawks organization and their prospect, who they selected in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft, kept the dialogue going throughout the decision making process with Mitchell eventually settling on a third collegiate campaign.

"It was really an open line of communication, which was really helpful for me," Mitchell said. "[The Blackhawks] told me throughout they would respect and really support me in whatever decision I made. That really made it easy on me. I know other places don't really give their prospects that kind of decision so I'm very grateful for that. They've been fantastic throughout this whole process and that's why I really, really want to be a Blackhawk one day. I just felt for me, personally, staying in school another year would benefit me and when I do make the jump I'll, hopefully, be an impact player."

And Mitchell has every opportunity to be that kind of player for Chicago in due time. He's an offensively dynamic defender who led Denver's blueline in points with 27 (6G, 21A) in 39 games in 2018-19. He also led his team in power-play points with 12. But even with solid sophomore numbers and Second-Team All-NCHC honors, Mitchell felt there was more to his offensive game.

"That was also another big reason I wanted to come back," he said. "I want to be able to do even more offensively and I want to be a difference maker and make plays every shift. I felt that this year on too many occasions I wasn't doing that. Next year I just want to work on consistently being that force offensively and I feel like that is something I can definitely improve on."

In his first two seasons at Denver, Mitchell says he has already seen big improvements in the defensive side of his game.

"I took big strides this year," he said. "This was the first year where I played against other teams' best players and I think that really helped me to work on my defensive game. Being a little harder to play against in the d-zone and being able to shut the other team's best players down were things I got better at this year."

When Mitchell is on his game, he's tough to stop.

"I think I'm just really deceptive as a player when I have the puck," he said. "I'm either passing it and jumping by guys or making a fake and going around the player. I feel like I'm very dangerous and dynamic when at my best."

And now Mitchell will look to consistently play at his best because when he achieves that, he'll be ready to make a difference for the Blackhawks.

"I want to make sure that when I do make the jump I want to be able to be an impact player and play at the highest level as soon as I can," he said. "I felt that being patient will definitely help me. I know a lot of defensemen before me have played three years and then have been able to make an impact like Torey Krug and Colton Parayko. Those are two guys who come to mind. That's kind of my thought process."

As he readies himself for another summer of progress, Mitchell says he'll take time to work on his lower-body strength and offensive skill set.

"I feel like I have another level to my skating that I can achieve," he said. "I think getting more powerful will allow me to gain that extra step. On the ice, I want to work on being more deceptive and work on my shot too."

Mitchell says that his plan, as of today, is for this to be his final college season before signing on with Chicago. He's confident the wait will be worth it in the end.

"Both years I've played here I've taken great strides in my development and I know the Blackhawks are also very happy with how I've progressed. I don't see that changing at all for next year. We have a great coaching staff and a great strength and conditioning coach as well. There is still lots of time I need to put in to progress but I know I'm in a really good spot for that."

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