Chicago Blackhawks news, commentary: On Ian Mitchell and the Blackhawks’ development plans, or lack thereof

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I guess this clock won’t reset yet, right?

It was July 31, 2005 when the Chicago Blackhawks drafted Niklas Hjalmarsson in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL Draft. He played 821 regular season games, 623 of them in Chicago.

And much of what has gone wrong for the Blackhawks in the last 5 years can be traced to the drought that followed the selection of Hjalmarsson, who will be of legal voting age in the US next summer.

Here’s the defenseman the Blackhawks have drafted since Hjalmarsson who made at least 50 NHL games. Keep in mind, though, that everyone has played most of their NHL games with teams other than the Blackhawks:

  • Dylan Olsen, 2009 first round: 124 games, 96 away for Chicago
  • Justin Holl, 2010 second round: 241 games, all away from Chicago
  • Stephen Johns, 2010 second round: 167 games, all away from Chicago
  • Adam Clendening, 2011 second round: 90 games, 86 away for Chicago
  • Klas Dahlbeck, 2011 third round: 170 games, 166 away from Chicago
  • Carl Dahlstrom, 2013 second round: 67 games, 18 away from Chicago
  • Lucas Carlsson, 2016 fourth round: 60 games, 42 away for Chicago
  • Henrik Jokiharju, 2017 first round: 229 games, 191 away for Chicago
  • Adam Boqvist, 2018 first round: 134 games, 58 away for Chicago

Going beyond draft picks, there were several younger blue-liners who got into the organization in other ways, but the Blackhawks either gave up on them or apparently didn’t have time for them; however, they did manage to find decent NHL time elsewhere.

  • Gustav Forsling has played in 150 games in three seasons since leaving Chicago
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk has played in 336 games in six seasons since leaving Chicago
  • Michal Kempny played in 166 games in four seasons, and won one Cup, after leaving Chicago

Whether it’s an inability to recognize talent in the draft, an inability to guide prospects along the development path, or an inability to recognize talent sitting in the locker room, one of the biggest reasons why Blackhawks have plummeted to their current depths is their overall incompetence at defense.

Which brings us back to Ian Mitchell, who was a healthy zero once again Thursday night.

It already feels like time is running out on Mitchell’s tenure in Chicago, mostly because we’ve all seen this movie before: A prospect rises through the ranks from amateur levels to the AHL and finally makes it to the NHL surrounded by enthusiasm. But soon in those NHL games, the ice time slows down or the healthy scratches start and then a few months later they are thrown in as another piece in a trade. Call it the Gustav Forsling route. Or the Adam Boqvist route. Or the route of Nicolas Beaudin.

Mitchell may not be a Norris Trophy candidate at any point in his career, but there sure is. something over there. Mitchell can skate. Mitchell can move the puck. He does things at an NHL level pace. He may not be a guy worth 20 minutes a night, but there are six spots on every blue line for every NHL game and it’s impossible to have a lineup with six Cale Makars. The Blackhawks will eventually need defenders in the second and third pairs just as much as they will need a top pair.

But it doesn’t look like Mitchell is going to be one of those deep guys anymore. And that would be fine if he didn’t start looking like another Blackhawks bust, another player who looked like a long-term piece who ends up plying his trade elsewhere.

Who’s next on this list? What reason is there to have any kind of confidence that the Blackhawks are going to do anything with their current prospects like Nolan Allan or Alex Vlasic or Isaak Phillips or Alec Regula or Ethan del Mastro when they have failed so many others? Kevin Korchinski has looked so good at times that he may be above this fray, but he will be the exception, not the rule. Why should there be reason for optimism in any other young blue-liner within this organization?

Because this whole situation has less to do with Mitchell and more to do with the current Blackhawks regime.

The biggest question mark surrounding the organization remains whether or not it can develop young talent, because the previous regime proved time and time again that it couldn’t. The good news is that high-end guys like Korchinski and, fingers crossed, Connor Bedard may not need much development. But those are just two of the 20 pieces that make up every NHL roster, and the ones further down the roster generally require some level of guidance from an NHL organization before they become consistent NHL players.

Mitchell’s treatment feels like similar missteps from the previous regimen, which seems like Mitchell isn’t even getting the chance to develop to the NHL level, and his time on the ice will go to discarded veterans with no long-term future in Chicago like Jarred Tinordi or Jack Johnson.

No, Kyle Davidson is not Stan Bowman. But he worked with Bowman for a decade, and while some pieces moved when Davidson took over, there are still plenty of people in positions similar to those under the previous boss, responsible for the development shortage detailed above. Fair or not, Davidson still needs to prove that his team can take prospects who aren’t quite ready for the NHL and hone their skills enough that they can survive at the highest level of the game.

Yes, it’s still early. But these initial signs do not inspire any confidence.

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