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DU Pioneers freshman profiles: Q&A with Ian Mitchell

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2017 Chicago Blackhawks second rounder hopes to help defensive unit in replacing its top player

Spruce Grove Saints/@absentlight.raw

The University of Denver Pioneers will welcome nine talented freshmen to campus for the 2017-8 season. Ranked as a top-five recruiting class in the country, the 2017-18 freshman class appears to be stocked with potential. Between now and the start of the Pioneers’ season, Mile High Hockey will be profiling each of the incoming freshmen and examining their potential impact on the 2017-18 season and beyond.

Ian Mitchell announced his commitment to Denver in March 2016 during his first full season with the Spruce Grove Saints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Mitchell raised his profile with a second solid season in the AJHL and had his name called by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft earlier this summer.

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Mitchell made a 10-point jump in his second season of Junior A, eclipsing 30 assists between 53 games in the regular season and 10 in the playoffs. He participated in the 2017 U18 World Junior Championships with Team Canada, logging two assists in five games.

Given Mitchell’s high projected potential as an NHL prospect, several different scouts have written on his game. HockeyDraftCentral logged a few reports on Mitchell from before the draft:

• "Smooth-skating defenseman that shows a lot of poise in transition, carries the puck well in and out of traffic. Quick release on shot in stride and gets shot through from point. Shows high-end offensive skills. Tools to be a bottom-pair NHL defenseman that gets PP time with upside." (Ben Gallant, ISS Scout)

• "He’s actually a decent defender, but he’s still small. He can skate, he’s got really good puck skills. He can do everything with the puck. He can look guys off, he can skate, he does some physical things that a small guy needs to do." (Recrutes.ca)

• "He has elevated his play in tougher international competitions, which makes me confident that he can have a solid transition to a higher level of competition in college." (Cass Bruni, Scout, HockeyProspect.com Black Book)

As mentioned above, Mitchell is smaller than an average NHL defenseman at 5’11” and 174 pounds. His years at DU will give him more time to add strength to his frame before presumably moving to the next level. He has generally adapted his game well to being undersized at the Junior A level and will need to do so again in the NCAA. As one of eight defenseman on the roster, Mitchell should see significant ice time this year for a unit looking to replace the presence on Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher on the blue line.

Mitchell was kind enough to give a quick interview ahead of the season getting underway. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

MHH: What’s your impression of the other players in the freshman class?”

Mitchell: “All the other guys are definitely very talented. They’ve been recruited here for a reason to a championship-caliber team. It seems to be that everyone deserves to be here”

Do you and the other freshman feel confident in your ability to make a difference for a team heavy on returning talent?

“I think all of us are coming in here with the mindset of trying to do whatever we can to help contribute to the team. Obviously, there’s a lot of high-end players returning, so our job is just to try and push them and make them better. But at the same time, they can help make us better too. Obviously, we all want to play, but it’s a pretty loaded depth chart that’s for sure.”

What’s it like to come into a locker room after a championship season and be met with the high expectations facing the team?

It’s really exciting, first off, to start the year on a team that has a legitimate chance to win a national title. It’s an excellent opportunity for all of us on the team. Obviously, the returning guys have been there and done it before. Personally, I’m just trying to take it all in and learn from those guys and ask as many questions as I can to start off the season playing at my best.

For the defensive unit, what’s the mindset like for trying to replace Will Butcher?

It’s pretty hard to replace guys like that. He was the best player in the entire country last year so I don’t necessarily think that we’ll be able to replace him. I do think that with the guys returning and myself and Griffin coming in as a freshman, we have a group will be able to play at a really high level and pick up some of the slack in all areas. With Will departing, that will obviously leave some holes. We’re going to do it by committee and each one of us will pick up a little bit of the slack.

With 8 defensemen on the roster, do you have a sense of where you will fit in the rotation?

“I think that will probably take shape a little closer to our first game and I think we’re still a ways away from determining that right now. I’m just trying to earn Monty’s confidence right now and practice hard and show that I can skate hard in all situations of the game.”

What has it been like adjusting to the new speed and skill at the NCAA level?

“Going up against guys like Troy Terry, Gambrell, Luko and Borgström — all those guys are high-level forwards and I haven’t really had a chance to go up against guys like that in practice before. It’s definitely an eye-opener for me to see what kind of talent is there across the board. We have some pretty special players and so do other teams too. I think it’s good for me to see this early and get prepared for what I’m going to see all season long.”

Do you have a personal benchmark or goal you’ll be striving for this season?

“I try to stay away from personal goals. I feel that if you set a number on points and you could become a little too fixated on it and it could negatively impact your play. For me, going into games, my goal is to make smart plays all over the ice. I feel if I do that points will come. Going into the season, I want to win a national title so that’s what I’m most focused on.”