The Chicago Blackhawks won’t get to sign one of their top prospects just yet, as Ian Mitchell has informed the University of Denver that he will be back for his junior season. Mitchell explained his decision:
In the past few days since our season ended, I have had the chance to reflect on the year and the season our team had. It became clear to me during that time that I did not feel ready mentally or physically to leave Denver. I believe this is the best place for me to become a better hockey player and as a team we have an opportunity to do something very special next year. I would like to thank the Chicago Blackhawks organization for being so supportive and respectful of my decision to remain in school and continue my development. I am looking forward to next season.
Chicago will get another chance to sign Mitchell next spring, and he is not scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2021. Though his decision today may worry Blackhawks fans that he will go that route and try to hit the open market after four years in college, he told Scott Powers of The Athletic (subscription required) that the plan is still to sign with Chicago down the road:
I really want to stress that I want to play for the Blackhawks, and by no way is this is my intention to go through that free agency loophole. They put a lot of faith in me and developed me a ton, the Blackhawks have. I want to honor that, and it’s a fantastic organization and I want to play for them for a long time.
While reassuring, it still means the team will not be able to directly control his development next season or have him at their disposal. The Blackhawks turned things around somewhat in the second half of the season and showed that they might be able to contend for a playoff spot in 2019-20, but will need some of their young defensemen to take big steps forward and contribute even more than they have. Mitchell may or may not have not been able to do that in the NHL right away, but he certainly won’t now—at least during the regular season.
The 20-year old defenseman will instead try to dominate the college ranks and take Denver back to another Frozen Four appearance. In 39 games this season he recorded 27 points, but could improve on that next year and even potentially contend for the Hobey Baker. He was a nominee this season but failed to make the final ten names, as the award eventually went to Cale Makar.