Ian Mitchell will never forget the day he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks.
The 18-year-old defenceman from Calahoo was selected 57th overall in the second round of the National Hockey League entry draft Saturday morning.
“It was definitely a really cool day,” Mitchell said “It’s exciting for sure.”
Mitchell spent the draft weekend at the family acreage instead of sitting in the stands at the United Centre, which coincidentally is the home of the Blackhawks.
“I was in the basement with all my family and I just saw my name pop up on the screen. It was an unbelievable feeling really to see them call my name and right after that I got a flood of texts,” said the Alberta Junior Hockey League product of the Spruce Grove Saints.
And then the Blackhawks called.
“Darrell May gave me the great news. He’s one of the scouts for the Blackhawks and he’s been in contact with me a lot, just asking me about my game and watching me with the Saints,” Mitchell said. “Of course I have to thank (senior vice president/general manager) Stan Bowman and (vice president of amateur scoring) Mark Kelley for giving me this opportunity and putting this much faith in me in taking me that high.
“Obviously the dream of every young Canada kid wanting to play in the NHL is to be drafted and I’m fortunate enough to get that opportunity.”
Mitchell had a hunch he would go late in the second round or possibly early in third round as one of the most scouted AJHL players this season.
“It’s kind of where I thought I would end up and I was really happy that the Blackhawks took me. I kind of had my sights set on them. I thought I was a good fit and obviously they thought I was a good fit for them too so it couldn’t have worked out any better in my mind,” said the 2016/17 AJHL’s Top Defenceman finalist and All-League Team nominee.
Mitchell compares his style of play to Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche.
“That’s the kind of a guy I look up to. He’s a guy I think has some similarities in our game,” said the St. Albert Catholic High School graduate. “I’m a puck-moving defenceman who has got some offensive flair to my game. I skate well, I see the ice well and I have a high hockey IQ so if someone sees me play those are the kind of things they maybe would pick up.”
Last year’s U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August at the Czech Republic and Slovakia was the launching pad for Mitchell’s draft aspirations.
“That’s when I really thought I had a good shot at being drafted because a lot of players off that team get selected in the draft,” said Mitchell, who scored twice in four games and both goals were against Finland in the 4-3 win as Canada finished fifth.
The IIHF U18 World Championship in April at Slovakia was another major moment for Mitchell playing for Canada
“It’s huge. To be recognized with the best of your peers in your country is very humbling,” said Mitchell, who recorded two assists in five games for the quarter-finalists. “Every little kid dreams of putting on that jersey and I’ve been fortunate to do it multiple times.”
Mitchell grew up idolizing Alex Ovechkin while playing rural hockey for the Calahoo Chiefs – he is also a Brick Invitational alumnus with Team Brick Alberta – and after peewee spent two bantam AAA seasons with the Spruce Grove PAC Saints before cracking the 2014/15 midget AAA lineup of the St. Albert Raiders.
“It was a good year for my development to play in St. Albert that year and I’m thankful I got that opportunity. It was important for me to play at that level to try and use it as a jumping stone and try and make junior the following year,” said Mitchell, who recorded one goal and 10 assists in 27 games with the Raiders and also attended 2015 Canada Winter Games with the U16 Alberta silver medallists.
The next season Mitchell made the jump to the AJHL and was a North All-Rookie Team selection with the Saints.
“That’s kind of the team I grew up idolizing. I wanted to play for the Saints since I was a young kid,” said Mitchell, the highest NHL draft pick in modern Saints’ history, surpassing defenceman Brandon Hickey who was taken 64th overall in round three by the Calgary Flames in 2014.
“To be given the opportunity first by Jason McKee and Mike Ringrose this year was great. I couldn’t have thought of any better place to play my junior hockey. The community is great and the Saints are a top notch organization so it was fantastic for my development in helping me get to this point in my career,” added Mitchell, who contributed to Canada White’s gold-medal result at the 2015 World U17 Hockey Challenge and also skated with Canada West at the 2016 World Junior A Challenge.
Mitchell’s career totals with the Saints include 64 points (14 goals, 50 assists) in 109 games, plus nine points in 27 playoff games.
After attending the Blackhawks’ prospects camp from July 15 to 19 (“I’m really excited to go down there and meet all the other prospects they have in the system and kind of set a good first impression”), Mitchell will gear up for his freshman season with the Denver University Pioneers.
“I thought it really had a good balance between hockey and school. Of course with them winning the national title this year it’s a well recognized program. They also have a good track record of getting guys to the next level so I thought that was the best place for me to develop and hopefully make it to the NHL and also get a degree that’s worth something after hockey,” said Mitchell, who will hit the books in the business program while pursing a degree in accounting or finance marketing.