Blackhawks

What Ian Mitchell returning to college means for Blackhawks

What Ian Mitchell returning to college means for Blackhawks

After falling short of a Frozen Four championship with Denver, the attention in Chicago turned to defenseman prospect Ian Mitchell and whether he'd sign an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks. It felt like it was only a matter of time before he would do so, but as the days passed, there seemed to be growing speculation that that may not be the case.

On Wednesday, Mitchell made it official and announced his decision to return to college for his junior season by releasing this statement on Denver's website:

"In the past few days since our season ended, I have had the chance to reflect on the year and the season our team had. It became clear to me during that time that I did not feel ready mentally or physically to leave Denver. I believe this is the best place for me to become a better hockey player and as a team we have an opportunity to do something very special next year. I would like to thank the Chicago Blackhawks organization for being so supportive and respectful of my decision to remain in school and continue my development. I am looking forward to next season."

So what does this mean for the Blackhawks?

For one, it immediately eliminates Mitchell from the equation of making the 2019-20 Opening Day roster even though he might be the most pro-ready of the three top Blackhawks defensemen prospects that haven't appeared in an NHL game yet (Nicolas Beaudin and Adam Boqvist). It's probably a wise move for his long-term development.

But with Beaudin and Boqvist also in the same boat as far as maybe needing some more time to develop, it's entirely possible all three won't be in the NHL next season. Which is fine. The Blackhawks have always preached patience when it comes to prospects developing at their own pace.

But it puts the Blackhawks in a position the following season where they could be breaking in several young defensemen at once depending on where they're at in their timelines. Maybe that's a good problem to have. It also depends on the number of roster spots available, which is a conversation for a different day.

In going back to college, Mitchell, a second-round pick (No. 57 overall) in 2017, pushes back his eligibility to sign with the Blackhawks to the spring of 2020. And yes, it's too early to start wondering whether the Blackhawks could lose his signing rights if he returns to college for a senior season and elects to go to free agency. 

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Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Goaltenders

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Goaltenders

At the Blackhawks' exit interviews, GM Stan Bowman and coach Jeremy Colliton basically addressed everything. What went wrong? What needs to improve? Which areas did they take strides in?

The one thing they didn't assess: Goaltending. And it's because they didn't need to.

Among the 70 goaltenders that appeared in at least 10 games this season, Cam Ward (32.1 feet), Collin Delia (33.2) and Corey Crawford (34.1) ranked No. 1, 2 and 4 in closest average shot distance faced at 5-on-5, according to naturalstattrick.com. And yet the three of them helped the Blackhawks rank fifth in 5-on-5 high-danger save percentage (.856) and 18th in overall 5-on-5 save percentage (.919). 

No complaints there.

Where the numbers got skewed is on the penalty kill, where the Blackhawks were 26th in save percentage (.843). But again, how much of that is the fault of the goaltenders vs. the actual system and personnel?

So while the numbers on the surface might not look great in a vacuum — Crawford: 2.93 GAA and .908 save percentage; Delia: 3.61 GAA and .908 save percentage; Ward: 3.67 GAA and .897 save percentage — the Blackhawks couldn't have really asked for much more from their trio of netminders.

The most encouraging news? Crawford bounced back from his first and second concussion in a big way and looked like his old self down the stretch. In his final 13 starts he went 6-3-3 with a 1.97 GAA, .933 save percentage and one shutout. 

"It was great to see him rebound the way he did, especially at the start of the year," Bowman said. "And then having an injury, missed some time and then he came back, he's a pretty unique guy to be able to miss time like that and it's like he never missed a beat. He's the sharpest he's ever been. So that's reassuring knowing he has a lot of game left." 

Grade: B

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