After spending three seasons at Denver University, Blackhawks prospect Ian Mitchell is officially a pro and will hit the ice on Monday at Fifth Third Arena for his first NHL training camp.
In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago, Mitchell opened up about how his college experience prepared him for the NHL, whether he feels any pressure going into camp, what his personal goals are this season and more.
Here is the full transcript from the Q&A, which has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity:
First off, I wanted to ask how you’ve spent this unique offseason. Where have you been training, who have you been training with and when did you get to Chicago?
My season got shut down in Denver early March and I was home March 13 and was there the entire summer. I trained on my own at my place because a lot of stuff wasn't open, so I just followed Denver's workout program for the whole summer and then I drove into Chicago on Dec. 3.
I've been here for a month now, getting to work out with Paul Goodman at the facility there so that's been fantastic. I definitely feel prepared to hopefully push for a spot on the team.
You’ve been to development camp multiple years but this is your first NHL training camp. What’s your mindset going into it?
I guess I just want to stay aggressive. I think the biggest thing is just try to learn as much as I can and do what I can to try and make the team. That's the biggest thing for me, is just learn from guys like [Duncan] Keith and [Brent] Seabrook and [Connor] Murphy and [Calvin] de Haan, all those guys that have played in the NHL for a number of years now. There's so much I can learn from them and obviously I want to put on a good showing to hopefully make the team as well.
Chicago fans have been excited about you for years, and the organization feels that way too. Do you feel any added pressure?
No, I don't think so honestly. I'm just having fun right now, and just getting to be back on the ice and competing is so much fun. So wherever the cards land they will, but I'm definitely confident in myself and what I can do, but there's also a lot of good players here that can make the Blackhawks better, so hopefully I can be one of those guys.
I know it's unfortunate that your season got cut short and you couldn't captain Denver to a potential national title, but how has your time in college prepared you to become a full-time NHL player?
I just think the maturity has been a huge thing. Getting to spend those extra years living on my own, having to cook myself meals and budget my time with school and hockey, that was huge for me to now live on my own in a big city, hopefully, here in Chicago that I feel I can manage my life away from the rink and just take care of myself to hopefully be at my best when I am on the ice.
Denver gave me those tools, not even to speak about all the help that they gave me on the ice just developing myself as a player, so I wouldn't be where I am today without Denver. I'm really grateful that I got to spend three years there.
Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach came into training camp last year as teenagers, but you're going into your first camp at age 21 — turning 22 on Jan. 18. You're obviously a prospect, but do you feel like you're ahead of the curve and are more mature going into camp where you know what to expect?
Maybe a bit, but it's still my first time so there's still going to be a learning curve for me, too. I still view myself as a young player with lots to learn and lots to prove, but I definitely feel that's one of the reasons why I wanted to go to college, to have that little bit of extra seasoning by staying and playing in college and being able to come out at 21 years old as opposed to 18 or 19. I'm definitely more ready to make an impact now than I was two years ago.
Obviously, your goal is to make the team first and worry about the secondary stuff later, but have you talked to the coaching staff at all about what your role may be?
No, nothing like that too much. In my conversations with them, they just told me to be confident and play my game and just have fun and not be scared to make mistakes, basically. Just come in and play your game, that's the advice they've given me, and I'm sure that advice would go for any of their prospects, too.
You mentioned learning from guys like Keith and Seabrook, how much are you looking forward to actually being in the same locker room as them, seeing how they carry themselves and learning from them from both on and off the ice?
Yeah, that's something that I've definitely been thinking about a lot recently, just getting to meet them and be around them because those are two idols of mine in my young career.
They had them on TV the other night playing the 2015 Stanley Cup run when they beat the [Minnesota] Wild in Game 4, so I was watching that. Just getting able to meet them is going to be really cool. I'm really looking forward to it.
What can fans expect from you this season as far as what kind of game do you play and what will you bring to the table?
I characterize myself as a two-way defenseman with some offensive upside. I think that there's not really a facet of the game that I'm not necessarily comfortable in. I think that anything that the coaching staff will ask of me, I feel like I can do it to the best that I can.
I'd say I'm a good skater, so I'll be able to join the rush and hopefully use that to my advantage in the defensive zone with closing plays off quickly. That's kind of what I'll be trying to showcase the coaching staff and hopefully make the team.
Last one: What are your personal goals for this season? At the end of the year, if you look back, what would you be happy about?
Honestly, just to hopefully play as many games as possible. If I'm not on the roster, hopefully to be on that taxi squad just to be around the team and try and learn as much as I can from the older guys and the guys that have had really, really successful careers. If I can look back in a year and say that I was able to play some NHL games and improve my game, I'd be very happy with how the season went personally.