Duncan Keith Has Always Been "That Dude" for the Blackhawks, Is Ian Mitchell Next?

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Duncan Keith Has Always Been “That Dude” for the Blackhawks, Is Ian Mitchell Next?

Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks were forced into playing a number of young and inexperienced players this season, but through 12 regular season games so far, it’s actually worked out. Even still, one player that was on everyone’s radar right from the beginning of camp was rookie defenseman Ian Mitchell. A 2017 second-round draft pick by the Blackhawks, Mitchell was immediately recognized as a player that would likely step right into the NHL once his college career was over. And so far he has.

But before we get to that, a history lesson: Mitchell played three seasons at Denver University, being named team Captain his Junior season in 2019-20, while skating in 116 games and tallying 89 points. He also represented Team Canada at the 2019 World Junior Championships and the 2020 Spengler Cup. Coming into this first NHL season, Mitchell had the grooming, and so far has shown that he’s on the right path early on in his development.

I bring up Mitchell and Duncan Keith as being “That Dude” because I’m seeing it early on. No, this is not to say that Mitchell is going to be the next Keith or that he is going to win multiple Norris Trophies and whatnot. But it IS to say that I get the sense that the Blackhawks want him to play a similar role.

Maybe he’ll never be the guy who catches all the headlines, or becomes the team’s leading scorer or flashiest guy on the ice, but he surely CAN become someone who’s relied upon nightly to eat major minutes and be used in every situation.

Obviously, Duncan Keith has been that player for the Blackhawks basically since he joined the NHL club in the 2005-06 season. Indeed, since then, he’s played the second-most games for Chicago (1,150) and will likely go to the Hall of Fame as soon as he hangs up his skates (which might not be anytime soon, considering that it looks like he could play into his forties). Yep, for the better part of a decade and a half, Keith has simply been a quiet leader for the team, even in the shadow of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s spotlight. He’s always been there when you need him in big moments. He’s That Dude.

And while Ian Mitchell is not that player for Chicago quite yet, the path for him to get there is being laid-out for him early on. I see it within the organization and I’m starting to see it in his play.

A luxury for Mitchell – that Keith didn’t have when he joined the team – is that he’s not being tasked with playing 21, 22, 23 minutes a night. Mitchell has played in each of the Blackhawks 12 games this season, but is averaging just over 14 minutes a night. He’s had 20 or more shifts in three games this season, with his NHL debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning being the most ice-time he’s seen all year so far (17:21 minutes).

But within those minutes, Mitchell has been effective. Of the five defensemen who have played in all 12 games this season, Mitchell ranks first among them across all strengths in Corsi-For percentage (48.74) and Expected-Goal percentage (46.88), and ranks second in Shots-For percentage (45.96) and Scoring-Changes For percentage (46.98), both behind Keith in those categories.

Recently, Mitchell spoke about how much he and Keith have been able to communicate on and off the ice and how much he is learning from the 37-year-old. Citing their Western Canadian roots as a commonality, Mitchell looks to be a sponge around Keith, attempting to learn as much as he can from his game. It looks like he is taking a lot from those lessons he is learning since being paired with him this season.

He definitely has a dry humor. You don’t know if he’s joking or not. I just try to give it back to him when he’s kidding around, and I think maybe he likes that a little bit. So that’s maybe where we’ve made a little of bit friendship, a little bit of a bond there. In Western Canada, we like to joke that we’re a little bit tougher and harder than some of the other guys too. That’s where that comes from. – Ian Mitchell (Phil Thompson, Chicago Tribune)

Keith and Mitchell have played 46:04 minutes together this season, the second-most for Mitchell with any other defenseman behind Calvin de Haan, with whom he had been paired for the first seven games of the season. But in three of the past four games, Mitchell and Keith have been put together and it’s been an effective pairing for Chicago.

It appears that Jeremy Colliton will be giving the Keith-Mitchell pairing more time in the future and it could end up being a launching pad for Mitchell’s young career. The Blackhawks would be thrilled to have him turn into the player that president of hockey operations and general manager Stan Bowman has hyped him up to be. If Mitchell takes even just a portion of Keith’s career-path, he could very well be the next “Dude” for Chicago.

Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.