Blackhawks prospect defensemen Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin waiting for renewed NHL opportunities
After playing plenty for the Hawks last season, Mitchell and Beaudin have mostly played in the AHL with Rockford this year, albeit in very different roles.
SUNRISE, Fla. — Blackhawks defensive prospects Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin played a combined 58 NHL games last season.
This season, they’ve played a combined 10.
Adjusting to spending most of their time at the AHL level in Rockford — where Beaudin spent all of 2019-20 but where Mitchell had barely played since coming out of the University of Denver — has been a mental challenge, made even more difficult by their lingering tastes of the NHL.
“It has been hard sometimes,” Beaudin said Wednesday. “We all want to be in the NHL. It’s not easy. The AHL is a tough league, a grinding league, so you’ve just got to keep going.”
Their situations are not the same, however.
Mitchell’s NHL future remains bright and promising. He has been Rockford’s nightly No. 1 defenseman, asked to manage a huge ice-time workload. And he has thrived in the role, building on lessons learned from last season and using the stability to make significant developmental progress.
“It has been great,” Mitchell said. “[I’m] bringing a lot more calmness to my game. [I’m] not getting rattled by mistakes or not feeling like I’ve got to do everything.
“Basically I’ve just tried to play a simple game, defense-first. And in turn, that has actually turned into more offense for me, just by playing the game really simply. I still have those same offensive tools I had before, but I’m not forcing anything. I’m just letting the game come to me.”
The 23-year-old second-round pick from 2017 has 29 points through 50 games and has even been used by the IceHogs in the shootout, in which he’s 2-for-5.
“Mitchell has done well down there,” Hawks interim coach Derek King said. “He probably should’ve been there earlier and not thrown right into the NHL. A lot of these guys need to hone their game down there before they come up, and [old Hawks management] just never did with some of our guys.”
Beaudin, meanwhile, has largely occupied a third-pairing role for Rockford, and the fall not only from the NHL to AHL but to a lesser AHL role has tested his perseverance. He has 11 points in 52 games.
“It has been hard playing 15 minutes a night,” he said. “I’m a guy that’s better when I play a lot every night. But I’m used to it by now. [I’m] just trying to be good when I get on the ice, stay in the game. I keep telling myself that I’m a good player.
“It’s my third year as a pro; I know what I have to do to be an NHL player. I have to be good in my zone and skate with the puck, make plays. For me, it’s just [about building] consistency and getting my head in the right place and working harder.”
As a 22-year-old first-round draft pick (2018), Beaudin is certainly not running out of time career-wise.
But as he looks around Rockford’s depth chart and sees so many defensive prospects — Jakub Galvas, Alec Regula, Wyatt Kalynuk and Isaak Phillips in addition to himself and Mitchell — plus more (Alex Vlasic, Nolan Allan, Wyatt Kaiser, etc.) at other stages of the pipeline, he knows he’s fighting a numbers game.
“[The Hawks are] going with a rebuild,” he said. “That’s exciting. But at the same time, we have too many young defensemen here, so we’ll have to see what happens. It could be one or two or three [who get opportunities]; that’s not my [decision]. But maybe a couple of guys will have to move. There’s not space for everyone. We just need to keep battling.”
At 28-24-5, Rockford’s very young team somewhat surprisingly sits in playoff position with 15 games left. That high-stakes stretch run should provide valuable experience for Mitchell, Beaudin and the rest of the group.