After months of waiting, the puck has finally dropped on the 2021 NHL season, and all eyes were on one of the Chicago Blackhawks’ most highly-touted prospects.
Blackhawks’ defenseman Ian Mitchell made his NHL debut tonight as Chicago opened their season against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Mitchell was a standout star at the University of Denver and was drafted by the ‘Hawks in the second round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Right-handed defensemen are hard to come by, especially those that can consistently play the top four, so head coach Jeremy Colliton was definitely itching to see how Mitchell adapted to the NHL.
While the Blackhawks certainly didn’t have a game to remember, Mitchell had a decent outing overall. While he had the least time on ice out of all defensemen at 17:14, he was able to still be a good presence on the ice, registering one hit and showing his physical side.
Despite being a defenseman, Mitchell still has some offensive prowess as well. He scored 18 goals in his NCAA career, a decent showing by college hockey standards. While he didn’t get on the score sheet tonight, Mitchell did manage one shot on goal, throwing a wrister on the net from the right circle that was soaked up by Andrei Vasilevskiy. He also attempted two more shots but missed wide both times.
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Things weren’t all great this game, however. Mitchell was a -1 and spent 6:48 as part of the disastrous Blackhawks’ penalty kill that gave up three goals tonight. Now, I don’t personally think that plus/minus is a good indicator of a player’s game performance, but it might be a good idea to try and switch Mitchell’s time up on special teams.
Overall, #51’s first NHL game was probably not how he would’ve liked it to end up. Luckily, there are many more games to go in this season, and many more opportunities for Mitchell to show what he can do. Adding to that is the fact that Colliton seems to like the youngster’s knack for communicating on the ice, stating that:
"He [Mitchell] is loud, and that makes it so much easier to play. The veteran guys really appreciate young players who talk, as often young players don’t talk. And also [they appreciate] his willingness to jump in and use his skating to help drive the play, whether it’s on the breakout or even defending. (Via Ben Pope The Chicago Sun Times)"
This is likely to be a rough season for Blackhawks fans, and if this game was any indication of what’s to come, it’s not going to get much better any time soon. Despite that, the fact that this team has great young players like Ian Mitchell waiting to step into the right role might serve as a light at the end of the tunnel.
Will Mitchell continue his good play from this first game, or will we see him take a step backward? We’ll find out on Friday when the Blackhawks take on the Lightning again at 6 p.m. CST.