The University of Denver was sitting on a No. 6 ranking nationally when the covid-19 global pandemic forced all sports to shut down for the forseeable future.
That robbed captain Ian Mitchell, a 2017 second-round draft pick for the Chicago Blackhawks, from potentially seeing his team to a deep collegiate post-season run. But despite the uncertainty surrounding the end of his junior season, the 21-year-old defender won’t be sticking around for a fourth and final year.
It was reported on Saturday morning that Mitchell has agreed to an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks to leave school, something that will likely disappoint a handful of Denver fans while simultaneously causing sighs of relief from Chicago fans everywhere.
Mitchell surprised the Blackhawks community when he announced his return to Denver for his junior season, particularly given how strong his 2018-19 year had been. In addition to an appearance on the Canadian World Junior roster at the U20 IIHF WJC that winter, he had logged six goals and 27 points in 39 appearances on the back end as one of the Pioneers alternate captains — and it was a full two years after Chicago had selected him 57th overall, causing Blackhawks fans to pine for his addition to their heavily-depleted defensive pipeline.
At the time, though, he had reasoned that Denver’s follow-up season after their NCHC Championship and Frozen Four appearance weren’t how he wanted to leave things.
“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,” Mitchell said, via a team press release in the summer of 2019. “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.”
Obviously, Mitchell and the team were once again unable to replicate their 2017-18 postseason success and Frozen Four appearance this spring, albeit for different reasons from their 2019 spring campaign. But even with the bizarre way that this college season ended, it’s clear that Mitchell likely feels he’s ready to start his pro career — and compete for a spot on the Blackhawks’ NHL roster, which he’ll undoubtedly have a chance to do once he hits training camp presumably this fall.
The NHL has yet to clarify how the next handful of months will shake out. It’s unclear whether the 2019-20 season is going to be shuttered in its entirety, or if there will be some form of abbreviated continuation of the regular season and the playoffs. The league has been on indefinite hiatus since March 12th, following the announcement that multiple NBA players had tested positive for the novel coronavirus covid-19, and it’s still unclear when any kind of professional sporting play will resume in any capacity.
Assuming that things have gone back to some relative semblance of normalcy by next season, though, Denver fans will have somewhere new to watch one of their brightest players.