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Ian Mitchell sees himself, Boqvist, Beaudin as Blackhawks’ ‘next wave’ of defensive talent

The Blackhawks’ top prospect gave his first interview Wednesday since inking his entry-level contract last week.

Defenseman Ian Mitchell (left) has attended Blackhawks development camps before, but he’s now officially signed with the team.
Defenseman Ian Mitchell (left) has attended Blackhawks development camps before, but he’s now officially signed with the team.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Ian Mitchell isn’t physically with the Blackhawks yet.

But when he joins them before the 2020-21 season, he’s going to need to compose himself before meeting one of the team’s core members.

‘‘Growing up, I always loved watching Duncan Keith,’’ Mitchell, a defenseman, said Wednesday. ‘‘Getting to hopefully meet Duncan soon would be definitely something pretty cool for me. I’m going to probably be a bit starstruck. To have the opportunity to maybe play with him would be really, really cool.’’

Such comments are reminders that Mitchell is, at heart, just a 21-year-old hockey lover.

But he’s also a very talented hockey player and one of the most anticipated prospects to sign with the Hawks in years.

Thanks to him rebuffing general manager Stan Bowman’s contract offer last summer and returning for one more dominant season at the University of Denver, talk of Mitchell as the missing piece in the Hawks’ rebuild ballooned into something perhaps bigger than Mitchell himself. Indeed, many in the Hawks’ fan base convinced themselves Mitchell never would sign with the franchise.

But now Mitchell has signed — for real. He unofficially agreed to a deal in April, then officially put pen to paper last week, inking a three-year, entry-level contract that will kick in next season.

He said he chose to start next season and have his contract last until 2023 — unlike most other notable rookies, who signed deals during the pandemic — with his long-term future with the Hawks in mind.

‘‘[That] gave me another year to prove myself to the organization,’’ he said. ‘‘Hopefully, at the end of that third year, I can earn an even longer contract to stay in Chicago.’’

And such comments are reminders that Mitchell, no matter how starstruck he gets, doesn’t lack confidence in himself.

Ian Mitchell joined a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday while on a family vacation in British Columbia.
Ben Pope/Sun-Times

He went so far Wednesday as to compare the group of Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin and himself to the Hawks’ class of defensemen in the years before the 2010 Stanley Cup breakthrough.

‘‘Maybe it could be not so dissimilar to 2009 or 2008, when they were building for the three Cups,’’ he said. ‘‘They had a lot of young defensemen in the pipeline then, with Keith, [Brent] Seabrook, Brian Campbell and guys like that.

‘‘Adam and Nick and I have become pretty good friends from development camps. Getting to play with those guys next year will be a really good time, and hopefully we can be that ‘next wave’ that Hawks fans have seen before.’’

That’s an ambitious comparison — even the most optimistic would have a difficult time likening these 2020 Hawks to the 2009 version — but Mitchell isn’t wrong that he, Boqvist and Beaudin are a huge part of the Hawks’ plans moving forward.

Boqvist is coming off a surprisingly responsible rookie regular season and has become a first-pairing mainstay alongside Keith. Beaudin has enjoyed a great summer camp, with Bowman giving him multiple shoutouts Tuesday.

And Mitchell projects as a clear top-four defenseman. He worked to improve his one-timers, offensive creativity and vision, defensive gap control and stick use last winter at Denver. At this point, he’s as well-rounded as prospects come.

Mitchell emphasized for seemingly the hundredth time that ‘‘it wasn’t ever on my mind that I didn’t want to sign with the Blackhawks.’’ And with that, the contract saga finally is behind him.

Next up? Joining the Hawks this fall.

‘‘It’s definitely very exciting, something I’ve waited my whole life for,’’ he said. ‘‘At some point, I’ll get down to Chicago; I’m not sure quite when. I want to get down a little bit early, so I can meet some of the guys.’’

Especially Keith, it seems.