Blackhawks comfortable allowing Reichel to slowly grow his game
When the Blackhawks picked Kirby Dach for third overall in 2019, there were some who believed he was destined to become the franchise’s next No. 1 center.
But GM Stan Bowman, under immense pressure to keep the Hawks competitive, lacked vision and rushed Dach into the NHL.
The result was an uneven season in which Dach scored 8 goals and added 15 assists. Then came an injury-plagued 2020-21 season that saw Dach play in just 18 games.
Perhaps a wiser approach would have been to let Dach develop for another season with the Saskatoon Blades, his junior team, as most players need to dominate at a level before being promoted.
The current Hawks regime seems to understand this, and that’s why Lukas Reichel has spent most of this season gritting his teeth with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs. Reichel, who was selected 17th overall by the Hawks in 2020, has 14 goals and 22 assists in 32 appearances for Rockford.
He will play his second NHL game this season when the Hawks host Arizona at the United Center on Friday.
“There’s been a lot of good cases where organizations get guys to work and earn their way up the ranks,” Hawks coach Luke Richardson said after Thursday’s practice. “(They) have to work on certain parts of their game so they don’t falter and really get exposed at that level.”
Reichel’s offensive skills are undisputed. The 20-year-old scored 22 goals in 80 games in Germany’s top professional league over two seasons and had 35 goals in 88 AHL career games.
But he’s checking in at just 170 pounds and still has a lot to learn before he can make a consistent contribution to the Hawks.
Reichel, who played 11 games with the Hawks in 2021-22, admitted he was surprised he didn’t get the Hawks out of camp.
“Of course,” he said. “I’ve been working hard all summer to build the team. … But from there you get stronger and try to make it a difficult (decision). If I play well at Rockford, they have to kind of call me how I felt… and now I want to show that here.”
Richardson said it was “an obvious decision” to allow Reichel to build his game at Rockford.
“He’s showing some flashes of brilliance, but he just doesn’t look like he’s being consistent and physically ready for the NHL — and especially being a centerman,” Richardson said.
Defense is an area that young forwards often struggle with at the NHL level. Reichel is no different and there were a few examples on Thursday where the youngster could have been more aggressive.
“You’re a stick’s length from a guy,” Richardson said. “We need you to kill a game defensively just as we need you to score a few goals here. He knows it has to be a two-way game.”
“Sometimes it’s good to have 50-50 shifts and nothing really happens. I’m always trying to do something cool and sometimes it works and it’s pretty sick. But sometimes it doesn’t work and it’s a fluctuation and I (have to) go play D-Zone.”
Reichel will likely skate on one of the top two lines against the Coyotes, but he’ll stay on the wing to limit his responsibilities.
The Hawks are also expected to give Brett Seney a shot against Arizona. The 26-year-old forward has recorded 14 goals and 24 assists in 32 games for Rockford. Seney scored five goals for New Jersey in 2018-19 but has only played four NHL games since then.
Jones an All Star:
Defenseman Seth Jones was selected for the All-Star Game for the fifth time on Thursday. The league announced the 32 contestants (eight from each division) and details of an expanded fan vote to determine 12 additional All Stars (two skaters and one goalie from each division).
Jones has 2 goals and 9 assists in 27 games.
The game will be played on Saturday, February 4th in Sunrise, Florida.
Patrick Kane didn’t train on Thursday and there’s a question whether he’ll play Arizona on Friday. He is battling a lower body injury sustained in the Hawks’ 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
“He seemed to be in a good mood today but it was just a day of training,” said coach Luke Richardson. “He’ll try tomorrow morning hopefully and he’s (a) maybe. … So that’s good. It’s certainly possible.”
Andreas Athanasiou (non-COVID disease) did not practice either.