Sooner or later, Ian Mitchell will join the Chicago Blackhawks. Whether he’ll suit up for the Stanley Cup Qualifier against the Edmonton Oilers remains to be seen. Until coronavirus ended the college season, Mitchell had banked 32 points in his junior year with the University of Denver, and his availability for the tail end of the NHL season was largely going to be dictated by how far of a run Denver could make in their own playoffs. Though the details of the proposed return-to-play plan between the NHL and NHLPA aren’t finalized, it’s assumed that players in Mitchell’s situation – those who have signed their entry-level deals but haven’t debuted – won’t be allowed to join their clubs for the playoff, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Regardless, Mitchell isn’t likely to join the defensive rotation this season, not with Duncan Keith and Adam Boqvist, Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy, and Olli Maatta and Slater Koekkoek likely making up the top three line pairings, writes The Athletic’s Scott Powers If Mitchell isn’t able to sign with the Blackhawks this season, that probably suits Chicago just fine, as they could gain an extra year of cost control for Mitchell. If he is allowed to sign, not only might Chicago burn a year of Mitchell’s entry-level deal, but it’d also align his first year of restricted free agency with Boqvist and Kirby Dach. The Hawks know all too well how difficult it can be to build a contender when a team’s best young players become expensive at the same time.
- Speaking of Dach, the Blackhawks’ rookie center isn’t quite as gung-ho to return to the ice as NHL players are “supposed” to be, but that shouldn’t be a knock on the young center’s character, writes The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus. On the contrary, Dach displayed remarkable self-awareness and maturity in his comments about returning to play: “As a young guy in my first year, I feel like I’ve got a lot of potential to grow and learn in this league, and to become the player I want to be. I know I’m a few steps away from that. At the same time, this could be a health risk for many young guys’ careers. We’re high-intensity athletes, where our hearts and lungs are pumping extremely fast, and (COVID-19) could be damaging to us, even past our careers. That’s something you’ve got to take into consideration when you go back.” Dach, 19, showed enough in his first season to excite the Chicago faithful, scoring 23 points in 14:16 ATOI. Despite his concerns, Dach plans on joining his teammates for their Stanley Cup Qualifier against the Edmonton Oilers, which, if nothing else, will provide Dach an early brush with playoff-adjacent hockey.
- Calvin de Haan, meanwhile, is back on the ice as of today, per Carter Baum of NHL.com. In his first season with the Blackhawks, the former Islanders and Hurricanes blueliner appeared in 29 games before right shoulder surgery knocked him out for the year – or so we thought. When healthy, de Haan was a penalty killer for Chicago, and he’ll likely slot back into the second pair or defenseman with Connor Murphy if he’s fully back up to speed. Baum provides this quote from Coach Jeremy Colliton: “Obviously we’ve got to get him on the ice and go through camp and hopefully everything continues to progress as far as his health.”
- The Blackhawks have an uphill climb ahead of them if they hope to survive the Stanley Cup Qualifier. Taking on the star-studded Edmonton Oilers on their home ice (without fans) presents a challenge for the Hawks, but it’s still a better deal than they were likely to get had the season finished on time. Chicago wasn’t likely to scratch their way back into the playoff hunt, but now youngsters like Dach, Boqvist, and Alex DeBrincat can garner some experience playing games of consequence against some of the best players in the game. The Blackhawks have the experience to upset Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the Oilers, but to do so will likely require goaltender Corey Crawford to quickly get on top of his game, per Tracey Myers of NHL.com. After trading Robin Lehner to the Golden Knights, Chicago has no viable Plan B should the 35-year-old Crawford struggle to hit his stride. Not to pile on in the stakes department, but Crawford is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.