Over the course of the next month, Chicago Hockey Now will be profiling every Chicago Blackhawks player from the 2022-23 season. Today, will be defenseman Ian Mitchell.
Games Played: 35
(Goals – Assists – Points with Chicago): 1-7-8
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent (Arbitration Rights)
The Short View
It was supposed to be a year where Mitchell took a step forward. A rebuild, roster spots open, and a chance to prove himself, Mitchell played just 35 games in Chicago. A wrist injury shelved him through the preseason and the first month of the season. A few games in November made way for a reassignment to Rockford. Mitchell then played the rest of the season with the big club, albeit much less than many projected–and hoped for.
The Long View
Florida Hockey Now’s George Richards wrote recently about how former Blackhawks defenseman Gustav Forsling has been the Panthers unsung hero. Forsling was traded to Carolina and it was met with shoulder shrugs back in 2019. Forsling never hit in Chicago, and Carolina would later place him on waivers, seemingly justifying the Blackhawks decision to dump him.
Florida picked him up and the rest is history. Forsling skates for a Stanley Cup now, a lynchpin on Florida’s blueline.
Mitchell is only a couple years younger than Forsling, and once upon a time was expected to compete for big minutes in Chicago. It hasn’t come to fruition. Worse, in some games he appeared to skate without confidence and looked lost on the ice. Contrast this to just a few seasons ago when Mitchell appeared ready to step in. At 21 years old, he was skating for Denver University, one of the top programs in college hockey. His first season in Chicago was his best–limited exposure with a bastardized schedule due to the shortened pandemic season.He’d see just eight games a season later with more time spent in Rockford.
The past season is what it is. But it can’t be the epitaph to his Blackhawks career. In 82 career games with Chicago, Mitchell has four goals and 16 points. In 79 games, Forsling had 18 points with five goals.
If ever there’s a comparable, it’s here. But now, what should be done?
The Bottom Line for Ian Mitchell
For every Forsling, there’s the cautionary tale in the NHL that doesn’t work out. The player who should have been flipped or waived a year or two earlier. Mitchell certainly has more to prove. But the Blackhawks have to give him a true legitimate shot.
In the 82 games that Mitchell has seen in his career with Chicago, the big club has changed its identity for every passing season. They were chasing after the playoffs in 2020-21 and failed. 2021-22 imploded before it could begin. 2022-23 was a tank-job.
With Bedard likely making the team, and Kevin Korchinski a strong possibility to get a look, now is Mitchell’s chance to move forward and claim his spot. But he also needs to play to his strengths while being given adequate opportunity to do so. He has offensive instincts–he needs to trust them. He is the defenseman who is going to take that chance to push the play and likely be a liability in his own zone. But the offensive upside he has–which is what made him one of Chicago’s top prospects some time ago, can be covered with the right pairing.
There was another defenseman who wore #51 for the Blackhawks who played a similar game. The reward often outweighed the risk. Mitchell needs a full season and a true authentic chance at reaching his potential.
If it doesn’t work out, so be it. But the organization and its fans don’t want to see a Forsling situation repeat itself.
But everyone has to know, including Mitchell, that the 2023-24 season is likely his last chance to show he belongs.
Previous Blackhawks Bottom Line Entries: Jonathan Toews | Andreas Athanasiou | Tyler Johnson | Seth Jones | MacKenzie Entwistle | Taylor Raddysh | Connor Murphy | Petr Mrazek | Patrick Kane | Jason Dickinson