Blackhawks sign Ian Mitchell, 2 free agents to contracts starting next season

Mitchell, the Hawks’ top prospect, unofficially signed in April, but the start season of his contract had yet to be determined.

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Top prospect Ian Mitchell will join the Blackhawks at the start of next season.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

The Blackhawks announced a trio of signings Thursday — including top prospect Ian Mitchell after a prolonged process.

Mitchell, a defenseman, will officially join the Hawks at the start of the 2020-21 season, and his three-year entry-level contract will last through the 2022-23 season.

The NHL made all players signed after March 12 — the date the season stopped because of the coronavirus — ineligible to compete in the restarted playoffs this summer. However, players could still sign and then effectively burn one of their three years just to practice with their new team for a few weeks — an option the Wild’s top prospect, Kirill Kaprizov, chose when he signed earlier this week.

By contrast, the Hawks will end up getting a third year of Mitchell at a cheap $925,000 cap hit, which could be invaluable in a stagnant era for the NHL salary cap.

The decision concludes a long saga around signing Mitchell that dates back to last summer, when Mitchell rejected general manager Stan Bowman’s signing attempt in order to return for his junior year at Denver University. Mitchell, 21, was unofficially signed in April, but the contract couldn’t be filed without a start date.

Mitchell was one of the best players in college hockey each of the last two seasons and projects as a top-four defenseman at the NHL level, a role he could step into as soon as November.

The Hawks also signed two free agents — Wyatt Kalynuk, another college hockey product, and Pius Suter, a European league import. 

Suter’s addition marks the second straight year the Hawks landed the top scorer in Switzer-land’s National League. And if Suter, 24, has a debut season anything like his predecessor’s, Calder Trophy finalist Dominik Kubalik, he’ll be a smash hit. He comes to Chicago after five consecutive years with Zurich SC. He ripped off 30 goals and 53 points in 50 games this past season, shattering his previous career high of 39 points. 

He’s a bit undersized at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he makes up for that in creativity.

“After leading the league in goals and points in Switzerland, it’s time for the next step,” said Georges Muller, Suter’s agent. “At the end, it was tight decision between two organizations. We believe he fits best into the Blackhawks. They have proven many times that they are successful in integrating European undrafted players.”

Muller also noted that Hawks assistant coach Marc Crawford has an existing relationship with Suter that helped influence the decision.

Suter’s path in North America could vary from resembling Kubalik’s on the high end to Anton Wedin’s on the low end (Wedin couldn’t break out of the AHL all year and returned to Sweden in May). But such is the nature of all European imports. The Hawks will surely be optimistic about Suter, whose one-year contract will make him a restricted free agent next offseason.

Bowman also added 21-year-old University of Wisconsin product Kalynuk, a defenseman who scored 28 points in 36 games as the Badgers’ captain this past season.

Kalynuk was a seventh-round pick by the Flyers in 2017, but they let his rights expire last month. He’ll almost certainly need time to develop in the AHL before the Hawks give him a big-league look. He’s signed to a two-year contract.

The announcements came as the Hawks took a day off from on-ice workouts after three consecutive days of practice to begin training camp. They’ll practice again Friday, their fourth of 12 before departing for Edmonton on July 26.

NOTE: Defenseman Dennis Gilbert announced he’s missing the NHL restart because of a wrist injury that will require surgery. He appeared in 21 regular-season games for the Hawks but wasn’t included on their camp roster, which previously seemed strange.

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