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Ian Mitchell’s future emerges as key storyline for Blackhawks’ development camp

The highly touted defense prospect is slated to return to the University of Denver after camp ends.

Ian Mitchell is one of the top prospects in Chicago this week for camp.

All the top Blackhawks prospects will be in Chicago this week for development camp, and some of them — Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, Alex Nylander — certainly are more well-known than Ian Mitchell.

But the combination of Mitchell’s potential and his precarious contract situation makes the 20-year-old defenseman arguably the most interesting man to watch.

Mitchell, a second-round pick in 2017, can become an unrestricted free agent in two years if he doesn’t sign with the Hawks before then. And even if he does — for what it’s worth, Mitchell has been steadfast that it is his intention to do so — there’s drama about where he will play this coming season.

On April 17, a few weeks after his University of Denver squad made a run to the NCAA’s Frozen Four, Mitchell announced he planned to return to school for 2019-20. He was named team captain in May.

But that has proved not to be the end of the story. Hawks general manager Stan Bowman might be preparing a new pitch to try to persuade Mitchell to sign this week, The Athletic reported Friday, now that defenseman Henri Jokiharju’s trade to the Sabres has made Mitchell’s route to an NHL job easier.

That report sparked an overreaction on social media, with many thinking Mitchell now is likely to sign. But Denver coach David Carle and Mitchell painted a different picture in interviews with the Sun-Times last week.

‘‘I want to be patient and be a dominant player in every single shift in college hockey before I make the jump,’’ Mitchell said. ‘‘Denver is a great place to develop. So I love it here, and I don’t feel I am ready to leave quite yet.

‘‘I’m sure [the Hawks] would have liked me to come out [of college], but they are also very supportive of my decision and didn’t necessarily pressure me one way or the other. They made it very clear that it was up to me.’’

Carle, too, seemed unfazed about the possibility of losing Mitchell.

‘‘I don’t think anything’s changed in Ian’s mind,’’ Carle said Friday. ‘‘He’s pretty steadfast in his conviction; it’s not based on emotion. And when he makes a plan, he sticks with it.’’

Mitchell, like many of the Hawks’ defense prospects, is rather offensively inclined. He scored 27 points in 39 games as a sophomore last season. He also improved in other areas, bulking up to 181 pounds and working with Carle and Hawks director of player development Mark Eaton to improve his gap control at the blue line and his physicality in front of the net.

‘‘Everything that I’ve seen over his first couple of years at Denver, I think he could’ve made that transition to pro hockey and potentially competed for a spot with [the Hawks],’’ Eaton said.

If Bowman’s potential persuasion falls on deaf ears this week, Mitchell’s contract drama will be delayed until the spring, when it should heat up to an even higher degree.

As of now, Mitchell plans to return to Denver after camp ends Friday instead of staying in Chicago for two more weeks of training with team staff, like many of the Hawks’ other top prospects are doing. His captaincy duties at Denver will begin promptly.

‘‘He has an unbelievable ability to remove himself from a situation and think about how his actions affect the other people around him, and he cares more about the program than he does about himself,’’ Carle said. ‘‘This is a big opportunity for him to grow as a person.’’