Blackhawks defenseman Ian Mitchell is trying to impress the coaching staff and show he deserves to be in the lineup. At the same time, he’s not playing every night and must fend off thoughts that one mistake could send him to the press box for the next game.
Predictably, Mitchell is just attempting to stay focused on his game.
“I’m just trying to keep my head down, and when I do get an opportunity to play, try to make the most of it,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, it’s difficult to kind of come back in and out with your consistency and your rhythm of play, but that’s the nature of trying to break into the NHL. You’re not going to get in right away, so I have to do the best that I can with what I’m given.”
On Sunday, Mitchell was given an opportunity and connected for his first goal of the season in what ended up a 2-1 loss to the Kings. The third-period score is what coach Luke Richardson wants to see from Mitchell: a strong and accurate right-handed shot that exhibited his offensive ability.
“Yeah, just [Richardson] wants me to continue to do the things that I can offensively,” Mitchell said. “I think that’s a big strength of my game is moving the puck and the offensive blue line making plays, and then defensively winning my battles and moving pucks effectively on the breakouts, that’s where I can really be effective. So those are things that I have to excel at to make it for sure.”
During the off-day Monday, defenseman Isaak Phillips – scratched Sunday to make room for Mitchell – was assigned to Rockford while the Hawks recalled fellow blueliner Filip Roos from the IceHogs. Whether or not that means more consistent playing time for Mitchell remains to be seen, but his route to a steady role hasn’t been smooth.
Once considered a top defensive prospect coming out of the University of Denver, Mitchell appeared in 39 games during the abbreviated 2021 season. Instead of gaining more NHL experience, Mitchell skated just eight times for the Hawks during the 2021-22 campaign, and spent most of that season with Rockford.
Now 24, Mitchell is trying to establish himself. Sunday was only his 13th NHL game of the season.
“I think every player’s path is different and for defensemen sometimes takes a bit of a longer time, so I’ve just tried to continue to improve my game and that’s pretty much all I can do,” Mitchell said. “It’s not going to be an easy path to making the NHL, so I just have to continue to work and get to a point where I’m an NHL regular.”
Richardson said he and the coaching staff try to be open with players about what they’re doing with the lineup and why. By doing that, Richardson hopes that keeps players like Mitchell prepared and prevents them from thinking too much about the decisions. One example was Saturday in St. Louis, when Richardson played Phillips because he was a better matchup against a “heavier” Blues team.
Still, Richardson knows it’s not easy to go in and out of the lineup.
“It was nice to see him get rewarded at the end of the game,” Richardson said. “Hopefully that can build his confidence and continue.”
NOTES: The Hawks placed forward Tyler Johnson (left ankle) on injured reserve and recalled forward Luke Philp from Rockford. Johnson didn’t return after Sunday’s first period, and was spotted in a walking boot following the game.
– Late Sunday, Richardson said goalie Jaxson Stauber would be going on the upcoming road trip. Alex Stalock remains in concussion protocol.