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Rookie defenseman Ian Mitchell already proving to be one of Blackhawks’ best communicators

Expectations are high for Mitchell in 2021, and the Denver product clearly possesses the confidence, leadership and skill needed to meet them.

Ian Mitchell has been good at more than carrying sticks in training camp.
AP Photos

A few days before training camp began, Calvin de Haan popped up on Ian Mitchell’s phone.

“He texted me . . . and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to be playing together,’ ” Mitchell said. “That was huge for me to get that comfortability that he wanted to reach out and say hi. Ever since that day, I’ve really kind of stuck by him.”

Mitchell, by far the Blackhawks’ most highly anticipated rookie in 2021, has not only stuck beside de Haan off the ice — where the 29-year-old veteran has explained to Mitchell, 21, the intricacies of the Hawks’ defensive system — but on it, as well.

That duo has been a pairing throughout camp and likely will remain together when the Hawks open the regular season Wednesday.

“The simple eye test shows that he can play in this league,” de Haan said. “It’s been a joy to be paired with him. I’ve really tried to help him along in his first camp and taken him under my wing a little bit.

“For a new guy and younger lad, he’s really good at communicating on the ice. There’s not enough good things to say about him.”

Mitchell’s beyond-his-years communication skills have been one of the most frequently discussed subjects of camp.

It’s proof that his controversial decision to defer a Hawks contract offer in the summer of 2019 and return for his junior year at the University of Denver was a wise one. He served as captain on one of the nation’s best college teams and matured noticeably.

“When someone’s out there taking charge and being loud, it settles everyone on the ice down,” he said. “I’ve just learned these last couple of years how important it is to be communicative on the ice, and that’s what I’ve taken with me — just to be assertive and stand out any way I can.”

Ian Mitchell, seen here at 2019 Blackhawks development camp, has matured significantly in recent years.
Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

To have the confidence to speak up and reach for a leadership role as a rookie requires confidence. To do so on a defense that includes Duncan Keith and Connor Murphy, plus Nikita Zadorov and de Haan, requires immense self-belief.

And that’s something Mitchell, who may well be the centerpiece of the Hawks’ defensive future, possesses wholeheartedly.

Older members of the organization respect and admire it, too. De Haan helped cement it with his December text. Coach Jeremy Colliton named Mitchell the biggest standout of Sunday’s scrimmage, following up on his effusive praise from earlier.

“He’s loud, and that makes it so much easier to play,” Colliton said last week. “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.”

Added Mitchell himself: “A lot of advice I got over the summer is don’t sit back just because you’re young and you’re a rookie around all these NHL guys. You have to play your game, and being loud on the ice is part of my game.”

And that doesn’t mean Mitchell hasn’t also looked to the Hawks’ defensive mainstays for more advice.

“Coaches are always stressing how important it is to stay up and not give skilled guys on the other team space to enter into our zone,” he said. “Keith, de Haan and Murphy are so, so good at that. So I’ve been trying to watch them and see how they’re able to do that.”

This and that

The Hawks waived John Quenneville, Nick Seeler, Anton Lindholm and Matt Tomkins, with the intent of assigning them to the AHL or taxi squad, and also assigned 10 others directly to the AHL.

† Zadorov returned to practice after missing time with a “tweaked groin” and said he’ll be good to go Wednesday.

† Colliton said Carl Soderberg will miss the first four games dealing with his immigration issues and quarantine.